| The stumps after Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed without scoring any runs. (Reuters)
Port of Spain, March 23: The Indians lost their must-win game against Sri Lanka today, breaking the hearts of their cricket-crazy fans whose passion for the game was being partly blamed for Bob Woolmer’s alleged murder by the betting mafia.
India now needs Bermuda to shock Bangladesh on Sunday to have any hopes of staying in the World Cup.
After letting Sri Lanka off the hook and allowing it to pose a challenging 254 for six, the Indians sputtered from the start and were bundled out for 185 to lose by 69 runs.
Sachin Tendulkar was bowled for a three-ball duck in what could be his last World Cup game and Mahendra Singh Dhoni was out first ball, bamboozled by a brilliant Mutthiah Muralidharan.
In between, Yuvraj Singh’s run-out symbolised the confusion of a team that sank into mediocrity after a brief flash of inspiration in the morning. A distraught Rahul Dravid watched the mayhem at the other end till he holed out to Murali off Sanath Jayasuriya for 60.
A 54-run fourth-wicket stand between the skipper and back-to-form Virender Sehwag, who smashed 48 off 46 balls, had stanched the bleeding for a while to provide hope. But the Delhi marauder failed to cash in on a dropped catch by Kumar Sangakkara and once Murali had him foxed, the journey was only downhill.
Chaminda Vaas had got the first two wickets, Robin Uthappa (18 off 27) and Sourav Ganguly (7 off 23), the left-hander charging down to spoon one to Murali who held on to a difficult chance.
The morning had begun with hope, though. Before a seething, chanting saffronwhite-green sea in the Queen’s Park Oval stands, the Indians had worn down the Lankan top order with tight line-and-length and some inspired bowling changes.
But the islanders, put in to bat and reduced to 133 for 4, broke free in the latter half, piling 75 in the last 10 overs.
Chamara Silva scored his third successive fifty of the tournament, providing the thrust with Tillekeratne Dilshan with a stand of 83 after danger men Jayasuriya and Sangakkara had fallen cheaply trying to cut the shackles.
Russel Arnold and Vaas then swung the bat to add 38 off the last four overs.
At lunch, the Indian fans had looked confident. “We will make the Super Eight. Nothing can stop us,” said a member of a family of five who had come from the US to watch the crunch match.
Long before the first ball was bowled, the snaking queue of flag-waving Indians had charged up the atmosphere. Despite the cheering and dancing, they did not forget Woolmer.
“Bob, we miss you, feel for you,” said a poignant poster.
Dravid didn’t risk batting a second time after the Bangladesh lesson. He was vindicated as Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar, who was retained at the last moment, got the new ball to move around.
When the game began, the Indian players’ body language, as their bowling and fielding, had oozed the desire to make things happen. Their movements were quick and there were valiant attempts to cut the odd run and even an effort or two to pounce on half-chances.
Dhoni’s dive to the left to snare Mahela Jayawardene (7) off Agarkar showed that the Indians were eager to make amends for the first game’s lapses.
By then Zaheer had already sent back Jayasuriya. Soon, a brilliant move by Dravid saw Sourav come on and get rid of Sangakkara, Munaf Patel running 20 yards to take the catch.
At the other end, young opener Upul Tharanga was distinguishing himself with a chanceless 64, striking six elegant boundaries in his 90-ball knock. But when he fell to the bagful of tricks unleashed by Sachin, the Lankans seemed to be on the ropes.
But Dravid clearly missed a fifth specialist bowler. Harbhajan, who replaced Anil Kumble in the only change to the side, gave away 53 for none while Sachin’s eight overs went on to cost 40 and Sourav’s four leaked 22.