| Sourav Ganguly after taking a stunning catch to dismiss Sanath Jayasuriya in Margao on Wednesday. (AP)
Margao: If teamwork remains the key to World Cup success, then Team India can take much hope from Wednesday’s five-wicket victory at the Nehru Stadium.
Greg Chappell tried to remind the players of the importance of combined effort ahead of individual brilliance during Tuesday’s impromptu team meeting at the ground, and his mantra seems to have worked wonders.
Zaheer Khan started it all with his maiden five-wicket haul, Sourav Ganguly provided the impetus to the chase, and then Rahul Dravid and Mahendra Singh Dhoni completed the job with a 133-run partnership that blunted the Sri Lankan resistance.
In between, there were glimpses of some superb fielding efforts and the intention of the players to adapt to circumstances that made it look so easy in the end.
“Zaheer made the difference, Dravid was brilliant… We lost to a better team. It was quite difficult to stop them,” conceded rival captain Mahela Jayawardene.
The hosts showed unmatched determination that helped them square the Hero Honda Cup 1-1. The final match is in Visakhapatnam on Saturday.
Man of the Match Zaheer’s five for 42 crippled the top-order and squashed the late-order resistance.
Still, 231 was a tough target on a wicket that was slow and had variable bounce — conditions similar to what is expected during the quadrennial showpiece — making things difficult for strokemakers.
Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar were done in by rising deliveries and Yuvraj Singh failed to flourish, and when a well-set Sourav (48 off 72 balls) left at 94 for four, there must have been more than a few worried faces in the dressing room. The former captain, though, wasn’t too pleased with the decision.
But Dravid and Dhoni proved too good. Having learnt their lessons from the Rajkot defeat, they seemed firm not to falter in the chase this time.
The Team India captain (66 off 83 balls) also completed his 10,000 runs in ODIs along the way. Both batsmen showed restraint till the target came within striking distance and the senior pro hit the first six of the match.
They cut down on the risks and were more intent on keeping the scoreboard moving. The eight boundaries the stand yielded were shared equally by them.
Dhoni’s unbeaten 64 off 74 balls proved his maturity and he didn’t hit a single boundary off the first 49 balls faced. Quite uncharacteristic of him even as the vociferous demand grew with every passing ball.
Amid the euphoria, India’s man-under-the-scanner has failed to deliver yet again.
Despite Dravid’s oft-repeated faith in his abilities, Sehwag’s struggle continues. Having been given back his favourite position as opener, he started in a flourish but fell in predictable fashion. Unless he restores confidence in the last match, the thinktank will have a problem in their hands.
A damp outfield had delayed the start, but Zaheer made up for the lost time with three wickets in his first three overs. He finished with figures of 7-0-31-3 from his first spell.
The middle overs once again proved to be India’s bane. Playing with only four specialist bowlers, it was left to Sachin and Sehwag to complete the remaining ten overs. They ended up giving away 63 runs and it is during this stage that the visitors’ innings flourished.
Maravan Atapattu and Tillekeratne Dilshan initially did the consolidation with 76 runs in 109 balls for the fourth wicket and later Dilshan joined hands with Russell Arnold to steady the innings.
The sixth wicket pair put on 89 in 110 balls as the hosts struggled to check the flow of runs.
There was very little flamboyance among the Sri Lankans, too. Wiser by the experience of their top-order batsmen, they concentrated more on the ones and twos. Playing a grafter’s role was always advisable on this sort of wicket, and their middle-order did just that. That the entire innings produced only 26 boundaries tells its own tale.
Their recovery from six for three and 91 for five was no less stunning.
It remained a mystery why Dravid chose not to use Sourav’s mediumpace when the visitors were at ease against Sachin and Sehwag.
The former India captain, by the way, produced a stunning catch, running backwards from square leg and diving full length to dismiss Sanath Jayasuriya.
Jayawardene might have been left thinking if his decision to bat first backfired.
“We wanted to take advantage of the wet ball,” he tried to reason, putting up a brave front. But then he had never budgeted for the Zaheer spell which made the difference.