Colombo, July 27: It was, after all, not a hollow boast. But, only just...
Yesterday, Sourav Ganguly declared Team India had the character to rally from back-to-the-wall situations. Tonight, that was reinforced on the Premadasa turf, with Sri Lanka handed a four-run defeat in the concluding Asia Cup phase II match for both sides.
Of course, India and Sri Lanka meet again — in the August 1 final. Had India not won this thriller, the door would have opened for Pakistan to feature in the ultimate face-off.
Now, they are out of this Indian Oil-sponsored tournament.
The game had many turning points, the most significant being the brilliant Sanath Jayasuriya’s dismissal for a classic 130 in the 48th over and the last two overs — when Sri Lanka’s requirement was 15 — bowled by Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan, respectively.
Pathan conceded a mere four runs and got Upul Chandana; Zaheer made amends for having gifted 21 runs in his fourth over by conceding only six and dismissing Farveez Mahroof on the third last ball.
With the weak-hearted probably looking the other way, Nuwan Zoysa failed to do a Javed Miandad and the hosts’ challenge stopped at 267 for nine. Parthiv Patel was the first to react, child-like (not that he is very old) and captain Sourav leapt into Zaheer’s arms.
After almost being counted out, an emotional Team India was back in business.
“We haven’t been at our best, but are getting there.... A bonus point against Pakistan and a terrific win versus Sri Lanka.... Surely, now, some people won’t talk of divisions within the side and so on,” remarked Sourav, relieved and delighted.
He must have aged, though.
Counterpart Maravan Atapattu felt his team was in with a chance till the last delivery. In fact, had Man of the Match Virender Sehwag (81 and three for 37) not claimed Jayasuriya caught-and-bowled, the match wouldn’t have reached the final over.
Jayasuriya batted like the champion of the mid and late nineties, forcing Sourav to make an unprecedented number of fielding changes and challenging him to get the right bowling combination.
With senior pro Sachin Tendulkar regularly offering suggestions — beginning with the one to introduce Sehwag as early as the 14th over — Sourav was actually able to stay cool. It made a difference and the move to give the last over to Zaheer was, to say the least, bold.
It was, to an extent, Sourav’s day.
Sehwag topscored (his first ODI fifty in nine games), but it’s the captain who anchored with an excellent 79, his third fifty of this Asia Cup. Had he continued for a couple of overs, India would have been closer to 300 than finishing at 271 for six.
For reasons beyond Atapattu’s control, the best XI couldn’t be fielded. Specifically, it affected the bowling with Muttiah Muralidharan (in mourning) and Chaminda Vaas (bitten by the flu bug) missing the action. It’s another matter that while the Indians didn’t milk as many runs as they would have wished, even 271 was a winner.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan vice-captain Mahela Jayawardene left a poor taste by claiming to have caught Sourav in the deep, off Chandana, when replays confirmed it was taken on the half-volley. Given that the Ridley Jacobs have been booked for such breach of spirit, it will be interesting how Match Referee Mike Procter responds here.