India beat Sri Lanka in another high-scoring encounter at Karachi to storm into the Asia Cup Finals. The hosts, Pakistan, will be left with much to ponder and dissect. Already there is talk of Pakistan sacking Geoff Lawson as coach!
This tournament has been a bowlers’ nightmare. Scores of 300 are being regularly hacked down with several overs to spare. So also in last nights’ game. Despite the early loss of the in-form and dangerous Kumar Sangakkara and despite Sanath Jayasuriya’s departure before much serious damage could be inflicted, Sri Lanka got to a score of 308-8 in their 50 overs. Like India had the day before, the Sri Lankan innings never quite took off. Everytime the batsmen threatened to go into orbit speed, India would take a wicket and peg those ambitions down. Not that the bowling or fielding was good, mind you! It is just that the Sri Lankan batsmen could not quite take off. Just when Jayasuriya seemed set, he departed. Similarly Mahela Jayawardena, Kapugedera, Chamara Silva and Tilakaratne Dilshan. They never quite got going. In the end, 308 was, one felt, about 20 runs short.
The Indian fielding effort was lazy. Pragyan Ojha let one go through his legs although he did dive smartly in the middle overs to convert a sure boundary into a two. Ishant Sharma messed up a few on the boundary ropes! R. P. Singh had a wild throw that resulted in over-throws. Sehwag was late in getting a dive in. Even Suresh Raina messed up a few dives and a few throws. Yuvraj Singh, however, remains a serious concern on the field. It is not as if he has become slower in the field. He has. It seems as though his dodgy knee prevents him from being totally alive in the field. This condition enabled him to make an absolute dogs’ breakfast of a Sanath Jayasuria chance at mid-on early in the piece! This must be a concern for the team management. A fit-and-fighting Yuvraj Singh is an asset to the team.
When batting, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir started as though they were either at a hit-and-giggle cricket-camp or, at best, the nets! They laughed and joked their way to 92 off 11 overs before Sehwag tried a cute paddle-scoop, only to flush the ball down Dilhara Fernando’s throat! They batted in a cavalier manner with gay abandon. Gautam Gambhir has grown in confidence as an impact player. And with Sehwag, he is a more complete player, one feels. They have a very good understanding between themselves and this shows in the way they play their cricket. Although Suresh Raina looked a bit shaky early on, he too settled down to play smart cricket. Against the run of play, it seemed, Gambhir got out to Muthiah Muralidharan’s second over.
Dhoni then made a bold move. He promoted himself at 2-down! I thought this was a smart move. Both he and Suresh Raina had played the dangerous Muralidharan in the nets in the IPL — all three played for Chennai SuperKings. Moreover, Yuvraj Singh is not that comfortable, one feels, taking guard against an in-form and ticking Muralidharan. So the decision to elevate himself in the batting order showed both courage as well as flexibility on the part of Dhoni.
Nearly 100 runs later, when the match was almost sealed and in the bag, both Raina and Dhoni got out. But Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Shrama carried India home with 3 overs to spare! The 30 runs that Sri Lanka could not score mattered in the end.
The final is between the two best teams in the tournament.
India took Pragyan Ojha instead of Piyush Chawla. This move paid off. Ojha bowled better than Chawla, in my view. India also played R. P. Singh instead of Yusuf Pathan. They would be tempted to stick with the same team for the final.