Kumar Sangakkara set the game up for Sri Lanka with a superb century
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Sri Lanka gave ample warning of just how dangerous a one-day team they are, and the importance of proper combinations, by pulling off a tightly-fought but superbly executed win over India. They had an experienced batsman in Kumar Sangakkara batting long, a canny spinner in Sanath Jayasuriya keeping things tight, and an out-and-out quick bowler in Lasith Malinga blasting out wickets. India did not manage any of those things on the day and were left behind, underscoring their need to get the right mix of players in the squad for the World Cup.
It would be overstating things to say all the pieces had fallen into place, but some important questions were being answered on the verge of the selection of the 15-man squad for the World Cup. India's selectors, having given youth a free run in the 18 months leading to the World Cup, were forced to revert to being conservative, recalling the tried-and-trusted Zaheer Khan and Sourav Ganguly. The last few matches in the lead up to World Cup selection afforded an opportunity for the selectors to have these decisions vindicated.
Fourteen cricketers had virtually assured themselves spots when the series against Sri Lanka began. The competition for the last slot is an unusual one, the front-runners being Sreesanth, a fast bowler, Ramesh Powar, an offspinner, and Suresh Raina, a middle-order batsman and electric fielder.
Today, lacking the ailing trio of Yuvraj Singh, Ajit Agarkar and Irfan Pathan, the case for Raina was strong. Apart from Robin Uthappa and Dinesh Karthik the legs on the field were not the quickest. Aside from Sreesanth, there was no one with a strong arm from the deep.
More critically, though, Sreesanth, on a hard pitch that provided some assistance to the new white ball, hit his straps, bowling an unchanged 10-over spell, all along remaining purposeful and penetrative. Where he has been erratic with his length in the last few matches, in this one he was predominantly on just short of a driving length, and mixed things up sensibly. The result was predictable - the ball hurried on the batsmen just often enough to pick up wickets, as Upul Tharanga and Mahela Jayawardene discovered.
Given that India went into the match with only two quick bowlers, they could not afford for one to have an off day. With the added responsibility on his shoulders Sreesanth raced through his 10 overs, giving away only 39 runs. It's no secret that the team management is mighty keen on Raina but, equally, they need to find space for the extra fast bowler, and that man answers to the name of Sreesanth.
One of the main concerns of the selectors - three of whom were present at the Madhavrao Scindia Cricket Ground - in this match was to see if the break they had given Virender Sehwag from international cricket had done the job they hoped it would. And when Sehwag walked out to bat - at 129 for 3 just before the halfway mark, a score that would soon become 154 for 4, after both Tendulkar and Ganguly were dismissed - he had the ideal stage to impress.
Lasith Malinga returned for an eventful and fiery two-over burst, sending screaming yorkers into the block-hole with unerring accuracy, and the going was far from comfortable. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was lucky to survive, being cleaned up by one such yorker only to be reprieved by a call for no-ball, but Sehwag needed no such help. He even hit one gorgeous off-drive, threading the gap between cover and mid-off with precision. But, having played watchfully for 19 off 23 balls, Sehwag made a crucial blunder, attempting a cheeky dab off Malinga Bandara only to feather an edge to the keeper. In a challenging situation - just the right kind to test a batsman - Sehwag had stumbled, failing to close out the innings.
It was left to Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik and a decidedly frail tail to get India out of the woods, but that was not to be. The two wicketkeepers managed a 66-run partnership, but it was only enough to take the score to 235. When Sri Lanka managed to get rid of one - Karthik lbw to Malinga - the tail was exposed, and duly polished off. India will point to injuries that left them with virtually no fast bowling options, but the selectors will find that even in the eleventh hour not all their queries have been answered.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo