Not quite the wafer-thin margin that one associates with a thriller, but it had all the makings of one till before the penultimate over of the match began.
Not quite the wafer-thin margin that one associates with a thriller, but it had all the makings of one till before the penultimate over of the match began. And then, a trusted M.S. Dhoni-lieutenant bowled an over that was as McGrathesque as it could have been under pressure, and therein ended any hopes that the hosts, Sri Lanka, had harboured to notch up their first win. India ended the night with their seventh ODI triumph in a row, and a series score-line of 2-0 to boot. They are now a victory away from clinching their second successive series win in Sri Lanka in as many years.
Right through the encounter, one had sensed that almost all the elements of nature seemed to be in a mood to conspire against the tourists. A bad decision was followed by a ridiculous one, and this was compounded by some horrific running between the wickets that culminated in the two run-outs - and it could have been many more - of Virender Sehwag and Yusuf Pathan. Both at crucial times.
And then when Ishant Sharma pitched up a delivery that looked to have the rightful intentions of taking the stumps with it, it was thwarted by nothing short of a miracle. The white mass of 160 grams hit the leg-stump, and almost pleaded and cajoled it into submitting itself to the fineness of the delivery, but the set of stumps only shook without capitulating. It was akin to an earthquake that had occurred some miles away resulting in the tremors been felt in the stadium, yet, without any adverse effect.
Thilina Kandamby's knock was a mix of caution and aggression, rashness and confidence, and in the end of desperate need to put bat to ball after having batted through 129 deliveries for his 93 in only his ninth ODI. Not too many others supported his cause.
In contrast, after Sachin Tendulkar's early dismissal - to his second bad decision in as many games - Virender Sehwag's start threatened to take the match into a point of no return. Yet, his dismissal was one of the many in the Indian inning that flattered the fan for a while, only to deceive the recipient in the end. It was only Yuvraj, who managed to take the bulls - read, his nemesis, Murali and Mendis - by horns and get into his stride; and then yet another major blooper saw the ball take the face of the blade before thudding into his pads and an LBW given. Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan ran between the wickets for most part of the match like they were in a relationship founded in deep mistrust and the inevitable run-out happened.
The performance of the day for me - apart from the continuously monotonous and frenetic waving and doing-best-to-grab-eyeballs by the cast of the Bollywood flick, Victory
- came from Praveen Kumar, who bowled eight successive overs of swing, seam and - rather surprisingly - some unplayable bounce. So much so that even Sanath Jayasuriya hopped and jumped like a cat on a hot tin roof against the steep bounce that Kumar extracted from the pitch. Ishant Sharma may have scalped four, but it was that initial spell from this UP-man that set the ball rolling for India.
It was not so much that Sri Lanka lost a close match, but the fact that their energy levels had exhibited a sharp descent throughout the match. They are been led by a captain whose bad form prior to this match could have been a plausible - but not acceptable - excuse for this, yet, one hopes from the Islanders' perspective he would do well to get the adrenaline rushing a little more on the field. With the magic of Mendis and Murali been curbed by the Indian batsmen, it would take a much bigger effort from the rest of the Lankans to make a comeback into the series.