India hold their nerve to sneak a thriller

India held their nerve magnificently to sneak a 4-run win over Sri Lanka despite a magnificent 130 from Sanath Jayasuriya

India 271 (Sehwag 81, Ganguly 79, Yuvraj 50) beat Sri Lanka 267 for 9 (Jayasuriya 130, Sehwag 3-37) by 4 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

India celebrate a sweet victory. Had Sri Lanka scored one more boundary, India would have been on their way home.© AFP
There are days when a team imposes its will over another one simply because it is more desperate to win. Today was one of those days, when India held their nerve and overcame a rampant Sanath Jayasuriya in a heart-stopping match that ended with them squeaking through by four runs under the bright lights of the Premadasa Stadium. The Pakistan team, no doubt cheering every Sri Lankan run across Colombo at their hotel, now have no chance of making the final of the Asia Cup.
But, the Pakistanis were left to chew their nails till the very last over. With 42 balls left, and 37 runs needed, Sourav Ganguly stared defeat in the face and did not blink. He threw the ball to Virender Sehwag, and took his time to set the field. Tillakaratne Dilshan, who had come in under tremendous pressure, and Jayasuriya had put on 101 runs and seemed prepared and able to finish the job. Then, with a looping offbreak that would have done Erapalli Prasanna proud, Sehwag bowled Dilshan (39) through the gate. Upul Chandana, heart no doubt warmed by Jayasuriya's presence at the other end, dug in. Three overs later, 18 runs were needed from 18 balls, with four wickets in hand.
Jayasuriya was still menacingly at hand, and Ganguly persisted with Sehwag. Not for long, though, as Jayasuriya (130 from 132 balls, with 14 fours and a six) played a tired heave only to see Sehwag call early and settle under a swirler (254 for 7). Now, with two inexperienced tailenders to come, India were well and truly back in it.
And then, the pressure proved too much for Sri Lanka's inexperienced tail. Irfan Pathan rose to the occasion with a four-run 49th over, and 11 were needed from the final six balls. Ganguly, faced with a tough decision for the final time in the day, surrounded by his team-mates, threw the ball to Zaheer Khan. Six calm and cool balls later, Sri Lanka were still four runs short.
On a dry pitch that slowed down with every passing over in the second half, the target of 272 loomed large, and if it were not for one man, would probably have been enough to ensure a thumping win for India. After surviving a loud shout for lbw in the second over of the innings, when he was trapped fairly adjacent by Zaheer, Jayasuriya harked back to his golden period in the midand late-'90s, mercilessly bullying bowlers with brutal strokeplay. He set the tone early on, twirling that blade of his as though it were weightless, bringing into play one of the quickest bat-speeds in the world. Zaheer suffered early on, being looted to the tune of five consecutive boundaries in one over. A brace of flicks that sailed over the square-leg region were followed by a lap around the corner and a couple of quick jabs to third man.
But, while Jayasuriya plundered along to his 18th one-day century, his colleagues were getting caught out with a regularity that would have had the coach tearing his hair out. Avishka Gunawardene sliced Zaheer down third man's throat (20 for 1), and Saman Jayantha feathered an edge to the keeper (36 for 2). Marvan Atapattu played a delicious cover-drive early on, but he too panicked, jumped down the pitch and dragged the ball to square leg (76 for 3). Kumar Sangakkara then did his bit, throwing the bat around as though the required rate was 15.44 rather than 5.44, and holed out to mid-on (103 for 4).
When India had the top four back in the hutch with just over 100 on the board they would have known that only Jayasuriya stood between them and victory. Mahela Jayawardene helped steady the Sri Lankan ship, blocking, nudging and nurdling a 31-run partnership before a ripper from Sachin Tendulkar somehow squeezed into the stumps via bat and pad (134 for 5). That, as we now know, almost knocked the wind out of the Sri Lankan team.

Sourav Ganguly's knock formed the backbone of the Indian innings © AFP
There are many vital decisions a captain has to make, and when playing day-night matches in Sri Lanka calling correctly at the toss is one of the most important. Ganguly managed that, even if he made a hash of pencilling in names in the Indian teamsheet, and decided to bat. He then backed that up with an innings of 79, and with a little help from his friends Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, took India to a highly competitive 271 for 6.
If India had thrown the kitchen sink at Pakistan in pursuit of 301 in the last match, they took out the surgeon's knife today. Sehwag bucked a run of low scores with a measured, sometimes scratchy innings. His difficulty at having to curb his natural attacking style was plain to see, but somehow he stuck to the task at hand. Sehwag built a 134-run partnership with Ganguly for the second wicket, and laid the foundation for a large total. Even when he was dismissed on 81, caught behind attempting a big heave off Jayasuriya, India were well placed at 168 for 2.
On the day, Ganguly made sure he cut out the ambitious swings through the off side. He ran hard for most of his runs and only backed himself to play the big shots when the run rate needed a boost. Yuvraj (50) was an ideal foil to Ganguly at this stage, standing tall and hitting the ball with power. Anything that was too full or too loose disappeared, and plenty in between was pushed away for ones and twos. Ganguly took his chances against the spinners, using his feet well and lofting over the infield. Eventually, Lasith Malinga had the better of Ganguly (79) when he chipped one down mid-on's throat. The tail scrambled a few, India reached 271, a little short of what they wanted - but in the end, it was just enough to stay in the tournament.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.