It's been raining cats and dogs in Guyana since we arrived and we are all hoping that there will be some respite today as we kick-off our Super Eights campaign. After an encouraging trio of victories in the group stages, we are really looking forward to the challenge of taking on South Africa.
Their No 1 world ranking adds a little bit of extra spice. We want to knock them off the top perch and today's match in a neutral venue will be a great opportunity to see just where the two sides stand. They are certainly beatable, there is no doubt about that and we are confident of being able to put them under pressure.
The first round was good for us but we can still lift our game some more. Indeed, we must raise our game because we face some really tough games in the next couple of weeks. However, I sense a growing hunger within the dressing room. Having tasted some World Cup success, the desire for more has deepened at just the right time.
Having picked up two valuable points against India, we realistically need to win three out of our six matches to qualify for the semi-finals. However, naturally, our objective is to win all six and we'll be taking it game by game. The challenge posed by varied conditions in the different venues is something that we are well-equipped to handle with our well-balanced unit.
It does, though, seem strange to be starting the Super Eights without India, our Asian neighbours and the global powerhouse of the game. It leaves the tournament with a strange emptiness. India's unbelievable passion for the game always ensures an occasion whenever they take the field. One billion fans and a clutch of high-paying sponsors are naturally bitterly disappointed.
Of course, when you prepare for key games like last Friday you don't think about such things. We would have stayed in the tournament even if we had lost, but we were determined to claim the two extra points. There was no doubt in our minds that we would win the game. We were completely focused.
The same cannot be said about India's players. I thought our body language, right from the warm-ups to the conclusion, told the story. We were up for it, positive and very upbeat. India's players looked under pressure and their body language betrayed their edginess. This is completely understandable, of course, because they were under an incredible amount of pressure.
|India's players looked under pressure and their body language betrayed their edginess|
For me, the match was setup in the first 15 overs. We had a solid enough start and did not give India any momentum after they won the toss. [Tillakaratne] Dilshan and Chamara [Silva] then shared that brilliant partnership before [Russell] Arnold and [Chaminda] Vaas finished it all off with some perfectly-timed acceleration. Their superb efforts ensured that India's batsmen had to actually win the match.
You can't blame [Rahul] Dravid for bowling first. We'd have done the same as the conditions were always going to be bowler-friendly at the start, as they were for all the games at Port of Spain. But should a team like India really chase in such a crunch game? It's always a tough ask with one eye on the run rate. You have to be a really hardened batting unit to pull it off and batting first may have been a blessing for us.
Our bowlers certainly made it difficult. Vaasy was superb, very accurate right from the start. Mali [Lasith Malinga] was also much more disciplined with the new ball. The end result was that India's top order were not able to dominate the bowling at the start. They love seeing the ball flying to all corners but when the progress is more sedate, they can be uncomfortable.
[Robin] Uthappa got out fairly early and [Virender] Sehwag did not fire right from the start. That increased the pressure on [Sourav] Ganguly who the holed out trying to strike out. Then came the key scalp: Sachin [Tendulkar]. His loss was a huge blow for the Indian dressing room, sapping them of precious team-belief. That was a major turning point.
Dravid was still there but he is a holding player, good at working the ball around and gluing the chase together in partnership with some of the middle-order strokemakers. Thus the run out of Yuvraj [Singh], a very dangerous player and a perfect counterfoil for Dravid, was another turning point.
The impact of the pressure-cooker atmosphere was perhaps most obvious with Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He played an unbelievably expansive shot first ball. Sure, you have to play your natural game, but you also have to adapt to the situation in crunch matches.
This was perhaps the first big "crunch" game under coach Greg Chappell. They came into the tournament with some confidence-boosting home wins under their belt. The morale must have been high. But such victories count for little in one-day cricket when you turn-up for big matches in big tournaments. India at home and India overseas are two different teams.
To be honest, though, I feel sorry for India's cricketers. They'll now face a torrent of criticism and abuse in the coming weeks. Fanatical fans will no doubt be burning effigies as I write. The huge expectation places their players under enormous pressure. And when that expectation is raised a degree or two, it can easily have a crippling effect.
In Sri Lanka, the general public seem to have a more easy-going perspective. Yes, most Sri Lankans are passionate about sport, especially cricket, but we also seem to understand that sport is sport. I am not sure whether that more balanced attitude is the product of two decades of civil war, or merely reflects the more happy-go-lucky style of an island nation. The attitude of our fans makes it easier for us. Yes, we still get our fair share of criticism. There can be mud-slinging in the media too. But our houses are not stoned when we lose and we can still walk down the street without fearing for our safety. I am grateful for this and really don't envy the situation of India and Pakistan's top cricketers.