| Sachin Tendulkar produced a good allround performance on Sunday, taking two for 40 and scoring 74, but it wasn’t enough for India to stop Lanka. (AFP)
Colombo: It’s reasonable to say the Indians beat themselves in the Asia Cup final. In fact, Sourav Ganguly’s team choked, yet again, on the day that mattered. Much as the captain hates being reminded of an embarrassing tag, he has to live with it for some time at least.
Actually, the Indians’ performance — or, the lack of it — left pundits red-faced as everybody predicted a down-to-the-wire finish to this Indian Oil-sponsored tournament.
Instead, after restricting Sri Lanka to 228 for nine in conditions admittedly much better for batting, the Indians managed 203 for nine when the overs ran out. But for the 47 runs for the ninth wicket, between Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan, the defeat would have been huge.
That the Harbhajan-Zaheer association was the most productive tells its own story.
“We need to improve in all areas... 229 was achievable, but we didn’t have partnerships... Then, the Sri Lankans bowled and fielded well... We need to find a way of playing to potential after a break,” remarked a downcast Sourav.
He added: “The players’ thought-process has to get better... Even I can’t answer why we keep losing in finals...”
Maravan Atapattu, adjudged MoM for a character-laced 65 and on-the-ball captaincy, felt consistency had been crucial. As also their emphasis on fielding. The Sri Lankan captain had praise for his youngsters as well.
Despite not exactly making the most of winning the toss, the hosts still pulled it off. Their effort has to rank as remarkable and, among other things, has enhanced their stature on the one-day circuit.
Besides lifting the Cup, the Sri Lankans had the satisfaction of bagging the MoS award — the Maruti Esteem went to veteran Sanath Jayasuriya. He didn’t have much of a contribution with the bat, in the first session, but was outstanding with his variation of spin.
Jayasuriya’s commitment and his desire to not finish on the losing side has to be an eye-opener for some Indians. Clearly, at the Premadasa on Sunday, only one team was bent on winning. Sadly, it wasn’t the Indians.
Just the other day, coach John Wright told The Telegraph that the “intensity” had to increase. It didn’t.
For all the slowness of the wicket, the Indians batted inexplicably. It didn’t help that Virender Sehwag and Sourav (out in soft manner) departed quickly, but V.V.S. Laxman struggled and poor Sachin Tendulkar (seventh out for 74) got trapped: Should he accelerate or...
Known to talk straight, Sourav bluntly said the failure of Laxman and ODI stalwart Yuvraj Singh to rotate the strike left him “surprised.”
The bottomline would have been different had Sachin got support. As Bob Woolmer keeps reminding, there’s no shortcut to “constructing an innings.” The Indians, unbelievably, were on a dismantling job.
The Sri Lankans have never had a clutch of stars, but performers haven’t been in short supply. Under the floodlights, though, everybody became a hero with Upul Chandana returning the best figures — three for 33.
Of course, the most telling performance came from quick Nuwan Zoysa. He wore the 00 shirt, but a 7 could have been added as his impact was James Bond-like. In other words, the Indians took no liberties in his only spell (8-2-18-1). That set the agenda, with Atapattu not needing him a second time.
Now, the Indians have much thinking to do, not least because the next assignment pits them against world champions Australia and the thirsting Pakistanis.