Colombo: The ICC Champions Trophy still eludes the Indians. New Zealand had dashed their dreams in Nairobi and, Sunday, when everything seemed in place for an Indian victory, the heavens opened up. The final will now be replayed Monday. If the match cannot be completed, India and Sri Lanka will be declared joint winners.
A thunderstorm that rocked the Premadasa, shortly after the start of the second session, led to the abandonment. Virender Sehwag and Dinesh Mongia, who came in for V.V.S. Laxman, were going great guns when ‘disaster’ struck. A target of 245 was always gettable, considering the form the Indians have displayed in this tournament.
Sourav Ganguly had decided to drop himself to No. 4 with Sachin Tendulkar moving up to No. 3, following a last-minute change in strategy. “The target was not huge and it would have helped in tackling (Muttiah) Muralidharan in the middle overs,” said Sourav later. “We were very confident of sealing the victory.”
According to The Telegraph’s sources, Anil Kumble is likely to replace Jawagal Srinath Monday. The slowness of the pitch has forced the thinktank to consider returning to the two-pronged spin attack.
A temporary rain stoppage had prompted an inspection from the umpires but they decided on a replay after another downpour. Had the match witnessed an 8.30 pm restart, as was being discussed at one stage, the Indians would have been set a target of 158 in 25 overs following the Duckworth-Lewis formula.
According to Law 12.3.1 (a) of the playing conditions for this tournament, “a minimum of 25 overs have to be bowled to the side batting second to constitute a match...”.
The young Indian Turks got going yet again as Sri Lanka failed to utilise the good start. Sourav showed faith on three seamers on the new wicket and he was also expecting some bounce.
But except for Zaheer Khan, the quick bowlers failed to make any impact on the slow Premadasa wicket. The Lankan openers utilised the opportunity and made good use of the width offered. The brakes could be applied only after the introduction of spinners Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag.
Srinath, who reached the hotel at around 3 am because of a flight delay, showed the strains of having to perform just after a few hours. Even Kapil Dev was apprehensive of the fast bowler, who flew in from London, being able to get back into rhythm. “Let’s see what happens,” was his philosophical answer when quizzed at the Hilton Sunday morning.
It was indeed tough as Sanath Jayasuriya and Maravan Atapattu, especially the latter, floored the attack, Srinath’s first five overs costing him 36 runs. The mind was willing but the body was refusing to meet the demands.
The Indians dictated terms from the middle overs and Harbhajan was the most enterprising. Sourav used him intelligently, in three spells, as he tied the home batsmen into knots. The way he restricted the batsmen in the death overs went onto show his maturity.
The off-spinner struck with his fifth ball to remove the increasingly dangerous Atapattu, Ajit Agarkar managing to hold on to the ‘hot’ chance in the second attempt.
Jayasuriya had planned his innings and was not taking undue risks. The runs flowed as he unsettled Agarkar’s line. But the introduction of Sehwag upset their rhythm.
The more one sees of Sehwag, the more surprised he gets. He is never afraid to accept challenges and, more often than not, comes out winner. Today was no different as he got the ball to turn and bounce. He stuck to his length, bowled within limitations and never tried too many things.
Aravinda de Silva was dropped off consecutive balls, by Mohammed Kaif and Sachin Tendulkar, off Sehwag, as the veteran struggled in what would have been his last appearance on home soil. He was finally caught behind the wicket off Harbhajan, and did not wait for the umpire’s verdict.
It was a poignant moment for Aravinda. After having almost reached the stairs approaching the dressing room, he stopped, turned and waved his bat. The crowd was too stunned by Aravinda’s dismissal to respond and it took them a while to realise the importance and applaud their hero.
As the wickets tumbled, it was left to Kumar Sangakkara to play the anchor role. The pressure got to the Lankans as they failed to increase the run rate in the later stages.
But all this will be of little importance, as the teams settle down to start thinking afresh Monday.