India prevail in nail-biting finish
by Rohit Sakunia

Ground:Madhavrao Scindia Cricket Ground, Rajkot
Scorecard:India v Sri Lanka
Player:V Sehwag, SR Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, TM Dilshan, KC Sangakkara
Event:Sri Lanka in India 2009/10

DateLine: 15th December 2009


The scene has changed dramatically since the Test series between India and Sri Lanka has got over. If India turned out to be the non-debatable champion between the two sides in the longer format, since then the sides have looked terribly close to each other in all departments of the game. In fact they match each other even in fielding lapses and missed catches. The two T20 internationals were ample testimonial of that fact and the first one dayer only added to the belief.


The bowling of both the sides looked jaded at Rajkot and if India took full toll of a weak Lankan attack, mocking them by scoring a gargantuan 414, courtesy spectacular batting by the top 3 of the Indian batting attack, the Lankan batting did not just take notice. They matched the Indians shot by shot but unfortunately couldn't hold on to their nerves and hit the final buzzer. A brilliant old-ball spell by Indian seamers took the game away from the tourists. Tillakratne Dilshan probably played the innings of his life and Kumar Sangakkara took out all the vengeance and poison he wanted to, but still it was India who prevailed by 3 runs in the tense encounter.


Chasing a mammoth score of 415 to win the first ODI of the five match series, Sri Lankan openers like their Indian counterparts also could not go all out after the bowling. The first five overs went well but what followed just had one instance before this in the history of ODI's. In 2006, South Africa had chased down 438 against Australia in Johannesburg. Something similar in effort was needed by the Lankans today after their poor bowling performance. If it was Herschelle Gibbs on that day, it was Tillekratne Dilshan today who did the unthinkable.


To start of he found a very able ally in Upul Tharanga who played a perfect replica of what Sachin tendulkar did in the morning. The duo exceeded what the Indian openers did in the morning adding 188 runs in less than 24 overs. The Indians did not make their job any bit easy by dropping catches. They dropped two sitters and one difficult one today. Tharanga was dropped when he hadn't started to look menacing at 10. This fault proved expensive as it was after this lapse that Dilshan cut loose with a flurry of boundaries. He played all the shots in the book and after a long time played the Dilscoop as well quite convincingly. it.


He raised his half-century in just 38 balls but this was just the beginning. The first 10 overs had yielded 81 and from here on the chase looked on course. Zaheer was the first change bowler and was greeted with boundaries and Jadeja when he was introduced was hit for a six-four-four in his first over. Dilshan took 35 for his next 50 and ominous signs started to look obvious for the Indian skipper. Tharanga also did not get behind, hitting a straight six almost at will against the spinners.


When Suresh Raina was introduced, even he was thumped for a straight six, before an error of judgement saw the left-hander stumped. The only bowler who looked in any control was Harbhajan but with four bowlers being hit for runs at will by the batsmen, India looked under huge threat defending a humongous 414.


Sangakkara joined Dilshan after the first wicket fell. The Lankan skipper has been in top form since the 100 in the last innings in Mumbai. He was till now waiting for a chance to hurt the Indians the most. He got it here and justified all the potential that he is known for. The Lankan skipper overshadowed Dilshan pretty soon in boundary hitting. Runs flowed from his flow with a pace faster than a missile launched in full throttle. He raised his 50 soon but the hunger continued. Here it was that India lost a golden chance to tighten grip. Harbhajan Singh dropped a sitter when Sangakkara was on 52 of 28. What followed post the lapse looked like a highlights package. The next 14 balls that the Lankan skipper faced, he took 38 runs of them. Zaheer Khan was the biggest casualty of this carnage. The left-arm seamer was picked for 21 runs in the first over of the bowling powerplay.


Fortunately for India, the next over brought his downfall as he could not clear the square-leg fielder in trying to hook Praveen Kumar. The stage though had been set by him and from here on normal cricket could have taken the visitors home. Normal cricket though looked the most difficult today. Like the Indians during their batting powerplay, Sri Lanka also lost track in the form of wickets. Harbhajan Singh wreaked havoc scalping the wickets of Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillakratne Dilshan and the run out of Mahela Jayawardene only made matters worse.


But then again like the first innings, two youngsters in the form of Thilina Kandamby and talented Angelo Matthews took it over and took the Lankans to the brink of victory. Kandamby then in a suicidal way got run-out, not even trying to drag his bat in, while making it to the other end. Another run-out of the last ball of the 49th over, sent Samaraweera back to the pavilion.


Sri Lanka needed 11 to win of the last over and their only hope was the talented Matthews. After the first three balls gave away five runs, Tendulkar caught a blinder to send back Matthews. Though the catch wasn't all that great but considering the butter fingers the side had shown and the importance of the catch at that stage, this surely would rank as one of the best. Lanka now needed 6 of 2 balls which later converted into a five from one. Nehra maintained his composure and the last ball yielded only 1. The Indians finished on top by three runs, but the Lankans also deserve all the adulations to come thus far.


Earlier in an early morning start at Rajkot, Sri Lanka won the toss and decided to have a bowl on a grassy track. The tourists came out without the likes of flu-hit Lasith Malinga and injured Muttiah Muralitharan and that hit them badly as the Indian batting came heavy on all Lankan bowlers.


For the Indians though this could be called as the best team they got down with in the last year or so. Almost everyone is back to fitness and the bowling attack looked at its best as far as names are concerned. The only casualty to injury was Yuvraj Singh but his presence was hardly felt as the top three of the Indian line-up made enough runs to rattle the visitors.


To start the proceedings, Indian openers Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar made Kumar Sangakkara's decision to bowl first look absolutely stupid. The duo put together 153 runs in less than 20 overs. Sehwag blew to 146 of 102 balls as India notched up their biggest total in one-day internationals, surpassing the 413 made against lowly Bermuda at the 2007 World Cup.


First with Sachin and then with Dhoni, Sehwag, smashed the bowling to all corners of the park. It in fact has now become a little too repetitive seeing Sehwag do this. There was barely a moment of sanity and the batting team went from strength to strength as Sangakkara and his teammates could only look in awe. Had the Lankans not bowled with a little discipline in the last powerplay and picked wickets, the total could have scaled 450, maybe even 500. Such was the carnage and so many times the ball needed to be changed and strategies were made that the visitors took close to 4 hours to complete their quota of 50 overs.


The start wasn't all that berserk as Indian could only manage 19 in the first five overs. The two openers though had announced their intentions pretty early with trademark shots, Sachin's cover drive stood out in these. After the first five overs, the openers pressed the speed button and the velocity was such that the touring party was blown away.


The bowlers found themselves all over the place as both the openers almost exploded at the same time. Tendulkar started to hit boundaries and Sehwag found places out of the park. The medium-pacers all of them bowled perfect pace and hardly bowled any slower ball, the slower ones were the kind which later on brought the side some sanity in the last powerplay.


Sehwag reached his 50 with a majestic pull off Welegedera. he scaled this first peak from just 34 balls and after that took a momentary pause as Sachin took over. Two trademark lofts down the ground followed from the master's willow and then a couple of upper cuts brought up his half century. Between overs 6-10, India had managed 52 runs, and the bowling powerplay which was from 11-15 cost Sri Lanka 36.


If things looked to settle down for the Lankans, it only got worse as Angelo Matthews who was brought into the attack in the 16th over was thumped by Sehwag to one behind the sight screen and then one over cover as his first six balls cost 18. Tendulkar too enjoyed the carnage hitting a spectacular straight loft off Jayasuriya. Finally it was Fernando who brought little respite for his ailing side. He produced a marvellous indipper which undid the technically supreme Sachin Tendulkar.


The wicket gave a little breathing space to the Lankans but Sehwag who it seems hates to see the opposition relax, after a brief pause whacked a short one from Jayasuriya over midwicket for six. Matthews then went for another couple of boundaries as the Nawab from Najafgarh scaled his 12th century, from just 66 balls. There was huge importance of this century considering this came at home after 4 and a half years.


Dhoni also could not seal his composure for long, going down the track and hitting Jayasuriya for six, a shot which nearly went out of the ground. Seeing that nothing worked for him, Sangakkara turned to part-timers Thilina Kandamby and Tillakaratne Dilshan. The fours and sixes still continued to come and the batsmen looked least interested in dealing with singles.


The home team had raced to 261 of 30 overs. At this stage India looked comfortably placed to scale 450 if not exceed it. The way Sehwag was playing, had he stayed for 10 more overs, the target of 500 also could have looked scalable. A record individual score was also on the cards. Seeing the way the batsmen were treating the bowling, the batting powerplay was taken but the move worked more for the opposition. Welegedara returned and got rid of Sehwag with a low full toss that lobbed to point off the leading edge. By then, the second-wicket partnership was worth 156.


Dhoni also could not last longer, following Sehwag four balls later, miscuing a slower ball from Fernando into the hands of cover. Wickets tubled for a while as Gautam Gambhir edged Kulasekara behind. Raina and Harbhajan Singh also couldn't do much damage. Finally it was some late cameos from Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja that made sure India pass their highest score in ODI's.


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