| Yuvraj Singh en route to his unbeaten 79 in the sixth ODI in Rajkot on Wednesday
Rajkot: With Sri Lanka having to leave out Muttiah Muralidharan (hamstring problem) and India being forced to rest Ajit Agarkar (flu and sore throat), there certainly was some drama before the toss on Wednesday.
Once match No. 6 of the Videocon Cup got underway at the Madhavrao Scindia Cricket Ground, though, the pre-Motera script began to be replayed. The Lankans spluttered in excellent batting conditions to total a mere 196; the home team’s youngsters again came off with flying colours.
According to former Bengal coach Debu Mitra, who is handling the Saurashtra team from last season, the wicket was worth a lot more. “I believe a total of around 300 was possible,” he told The Telegraph.
The target, expectedly, was quickly reached and when Yuvraj Singh (who, finally, regained form) struck the winning runs to make it 197 for three, as many as 15.1 overs remained. It’s now 5-1 for India.
While questions about the Lankans’ commitment ' of the top order, only Upul Tharanga fell to a terrific ball from MoM Rudra Pratap Singh ' resurfaced, the other talking point was stand-in captain Virender Sehwag’s poise on and off the field.
Sehwag again failed to score big (he hasn’t gone past 48 in the series), but has now won both ODIs in which he has led. The first was back in April 2003, against Bangladesh in Dhaka, when Sourav Ganguly took a break.
In Rajkot, it’s Rahul Dravid who decided to rest. If Sourav wasn’t missed in Dhaka, Dravid’s absence wasn’t felt here either.
“I slept well last night and enjoyed captaining... It helped that I’d led for much of the Lankan innings in Motera... I learnt not to make the same mistakes,” Sehwag said. Grinning, he responded with a “I can’t say” when someone asked whether he would captain in Vadodara as well, on Saturday.
Sehwag began with a bold move when he invited Lanka to bat ' it could have gone horribly wrong as the wicket did become slow and the odd ball stopped. Then, he introduced Murali Kartik ahead of the in-form Harbhajan Singh. Kartik didn’t let him down.
Of course, with the Lankans intent on returning to the dressing room rather than making an effort out in the middle, Sehwag wasn't ever under real pressure. But, then, he can’t be blamed.
“Last evening itself I’d decided to field ' assuming I had the option... The wicket, in my opinion, would have stayed the same and we’d got off to a great start in chasing 300-plus (versus the West Indies) the last time we played in Rajkot,” Sehwag explained.
Teenaged left-armer Singh (he turns 20 next month), who made his first-class debut here two years ago, was the cynosure in the first session. He has the ability to swing the ball both ways, but largely kept to an excellent length and a fine line.
The basics fetched the UP boy a handsome reward (four for 35) in just his third India appearance.
For the Lankans, Tillekaratne Dilshan again top-scored (59), while captain Maravan Atapattu and the most experienced Sanath Jayasuriya flopped one more time. Incidentally, a run out each from the ‘original’ Young Turks ' Yuvraj and Mohammed Kaif ' added to Lanka’s misery.
Also, for a change, the Indians conceded only three extras.
Atapattu was highly critical of his batsmen ' not that he had a choice ' and lamented the “lack of consistency.” He felt at least 240 should have been scored and, had Murali been available, that would have been “very competitive.”
“The Indians have had the momentum their way and everything attempted by them has clicked... We’ve got to control the things we can and have got to return to the basics. The Test series isn’t far off, but it won’t help if (during the short break) we keep thinking about this series,” Atapattu observed.
In going for 197, the Indians lost three wickets for under 100, but Yuvraj and Kaif’s unseparated 105-run partnership authored an early finish ' also allowed for a relaxed departure by an evening flight to Vadodara.
Yuvraj was very much the senior partner and his attractive, positive energy-driven 79 came off just 67 balls (9x4, 3x6). He’d begun the match with scores of 14, 18, 10 and 3. Yuvraj didn’t get to bat in Mohali, a stone’s throw from hometown Chandigarh.
Among others, Sourav must have been delighted. Yet again, it got confirmed he hadn’t (as captain) been backing a loser.
Footnote: As Vikram Rajvir Singh’s replacement Jai Prakash Yadav would have reached well into the afternoon from Bhopal, he was advised to head directly to Vadodara and wait for the rest of his teammates to arrive there.