The magnitude of this match, it was said, could have rivalled a World Cup final. The tournament could ill afford India, cricket's cash cow, to crash out so early. Some reckoned there was so much at stake that India, which contributes close to two thirds of the game's revenues, would remain in the competition, even if it involved arm-twisting behind the scenes.

Where these arguments come apart is that they go against the unique power of sport, in embracing passion and fervour, to transcend such petty issues as money power. The advertisement hoardings at the Queen's Park Oval, or for that matter any ground in the world, may have endorsed Indian brands but it was always the effort of the 11 men that would ultimately count. Sri Lanka's 11 men came in with a plan and, crucially, executed it efficiently. They had already made it to the Super 8's but, going by their attitude, energy and desire, one would have thought they were on the brink of elimination.

India weren't outclassed for two-thirds of the match, as they were on this day four years ago when Ricky Ponting trampled them with sheer class in what was a World Cup final. For a clear understanding of the rhythm of this match, one will have to probably rewind a little earlier to the never-to-be-forgotten India-Pakistan clash at Centurion. The first innings was played out on an elastic band and every time one team nudged ahead, the other came back to restore parity. For a steady hundred from Saeed Anwar, you had plucky half-centuries from Upul Tharanga and Chamara Silva; for Younis Khan's urgent 32, you had a busy 38 from Tillakaratne Dilshan; for Pakistan's 273, you had Sri Lanka's 254.

There the similarities end. Such games need an enforcer, someone who can overcome the strong forces of tension, impose himself on the big stage and steer the match in one direction. At Centurion, that man was Sachin Tendulkar; on Friday, it was Muttiah Muralitharan. It's one of the hardest roles to play, one that requires a touch of genius, but it's for that reason alone that these players are special. Today Tendulkar couldn't play that role - one can argue that he received a very good ball but the fact is he couldn't. Sourav Ganguly couldn't, Rahul Dravid couldn't. They weren't allowed to.

Sri Lanka's recent record against India is nothing short of woeful (winning just two of the last ten completed games) but on the day it mattered, they were on the ball. Chaminda Vaas taunted - his reflex caught-and-bowled off Robin Uthappa was exactly the early inspiration that Sri Lanka needed - before Dilhara Fernando, a late replacement, and Lasith Malinga hustled. Sri Lanka possess the most varied attack in the tournament - the hard graft from Vaas and Sanath Jayasuriya combining explosively with the exotic offerings from Malinga and Murali. India were bogged down by Vaas and pegged back by Fernando before Murali arrived, went round the wicket, unveiled offspinners, topspinners and doosras, made them spin at vicious angles, and took centrestage.

For Dravid, a nightmare was played out in front of him. Yuvraj Singh's run-out encapsulated India's panicky state and Mahendra Singh Dhoni's attempted slash simply left him pale-faced. Sehwag's dismissal was probably the most crucial - he was batting more confidently than he's done in recent memory and should have made the start count - but he too was mired by the Murali menace.

Dravid watched in shock as partners came and left before deciding, with the run-rate soaring, to go for broke. The four successive fours he crashed off Malinga stemmed from frustration, anger and hopelessness. He'd taken over a side and harboured hopes of turning them into hard-as-nails professionals; he'd ended with a most ignominious World Cup elimination.

Several questions need to be asked, including serious ones of Dravid and coach Greg Chappell, but the most galling aspect is that there doesn't seem to be any long-term vision, any honest appraisals. Indian cricket needs a massive overhaul (if a first-round exit doesn't instigate it, nothing will) but the fact that it's unlikely to happen is even more disturbing. It's not the Indian board's motto yet, but as someone once famously said, "Money can't buy happiness but it can give you the kind of misery with which you can live comfortably."

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