The 50 -over ODI ( One Day Internationals ) is the weak sister among the three forms of cricket. Cricket purists extol the virtues of Test cricket while the young fans plump for the slambang excitement of T-20’s . Both groups run down ODI’s which fall between two stools : on the one hand , ODIs are not ” real ” cricket and , on the other hand , they are not exciting enough. I understand their arguments but then along comes a game like the TriNation Series final contested by India and SriLanka earlier today.What a game ! What a finish !!
For those who did not watch the game , here is the scenario leading upto the unbelievable, engrossing final over.
India won the toss and put SriLanka in to bat on a pitch that afforded some assistance to both pace and spin. Both openers departed early and SriLanka were struggling at 49 for 2 when Sangakarra( 71) and Thirimanne (46) stemmed the rot and took the total to 171. Just when they seemed set for a big total ( 275? 300?), both of them departed trying to force the pace and the SriLankan middle order collapsed shockingly. The last 7 wickets fell for only 30 runs and SriLanka managed only a modest total of 201. This seemed very gettable for the powerful Indian batting but we were in for a surprise , the first of many.
India’s in-form batsmen , Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli ,fell early and India were soon 27 for 2. Rohit Sharma (58), who has reinvented himself as an opener, was the sheet anchor of two useful partnerships : 50 for the third wicket with Dinesh Karthik ( 23) and 62 for the fourth wicket with Suresh Raina ( 32) . At 139 for 3 after 31 overs , India were sitting pretty and the Indian fans in the sands were beginning to smell victory . Then , just like SriLanka earlier , India crumbled. From 139 for 3 they collapsed to 152 for 7. At this point , with only an injured Dhoni and three tailenders standing between them and victory , the SriLankans seemed to have it in the bag. The Indian fans in the stands subsided while the SriLankan supporters became vociferous.Dhoni was steady at one end but his injured hamstring did not allow him to take quick singles and he was unable to farm the strike. One by one the tailenders were winkled out and when the ninth wicket fell ( 182/9) it seemed only a matter of time before last man Ishant Sharma succumbed. The required run rate kept climbing precipitously and at the end of the 49th over , India still needed 15 runs to win . Fifteen of just six balls seemed impossible. I was certain Dhoni had left it too late . Boy , was I mistaken !!
The final over was bowled by the fast -medium Shaminda Eranga who had taken the first two Indian wickets . His first delivery to Dhoni was a dot ball. ( 15 needed of 5 balls).
The next was driven over the bowler’s head and into the stands. SIX . ( 9 runs needed off 4 balls).
Dhoni sliced the next delivery over cover and it ran to the boundary ; no chance for the fielder. FOUR. ( 5 needed of 3 balls) .
At this point , the strain on Eranga’s face was palpable though Dhoni was as cool as ever. He slapped the next ball from Eranga over extra cover and the ball landed just on the other side of the boundary line . SIX . India won by one wicket with two balls to spare. The jubilant Indian team ran out to the pitch to congratulate their captain and in the stands the Indian tricolor waved again . One could not but feel sorry for the SriLankans who had come oh-so-close to victory only to have it snatched away at the last moment.
Dhoni has always been known for his calm demeanor and his ability to perform under pressure . But ,even for him, this was a bravura performance.During that last wicket stand , he several times refused singles because he did not want to expose Ishant Sharma to Lasith Malinga’s bowling . Twice at least Sharma was almost run out and at the end of the 49th over , I gave Dhoni ( and India) no chance . But such is the man’s self belief , his keen judgement and his nerve, that he got the required runs in a storybook finish.
For the spectators in the stands it must have been excruciating . Up one moment , down the next as the tension mounted slowly with the required run rate. That final over was as exciting as anything that T20 cricket has ever produced , In fact , those last few balls felt like the finish of a T20 match. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.
After their victory in the Champions trophy, India could have been excused if they had taken the Tri Nation Series lightly , an opportunity to enjoy the West Indian sun and unwind. This suspicion seemed to be true when they lost the first two matches , the first narrowly to the Windies and the second a sound thrashing at the hands of the SriLankans. That they not only won the next two but finished atop the points table is a tribute to their resilience . This is a young side and , slowly but surely , it is being welded into a confident , cohesive unit. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar is a canny medium pacer , Umesh Yadav has his moments and Ishant seems to get wickets when least expected . R. Ashwin and all-rounder Ravi Jadeja are a capable spin tandem and it is exhilarating to see how the fielding has improved . As for the batting and Dhoni’s captaincy, no words are needed. The future looks brighter than it has ever been . India may still come a cropper later this year against the pace of Steyn and Morkel on the lively South African wickets but no matter . This is a young team and it can only get better .
A few words about the other two teams in the TriNation series. The West Indies are a young exciting team that sometimes gets done in by their exuberance. Call it a lack of discipline or whatever you will , but it causes them to be very unpredictable : worldbeaters one moment , minor leaguers the next. Typical was a moment late in their match against SriLanka . In the late overs , when the important thing was to keep the score down when Keiron Pollard shied the ball at the stumps in a wild attempt at a run-out. The ball eluded the two people backing up the throw and went for four more runs. Still with the explosive Chris Gayle back in the side , attractive middle order batsmen and a slew of genuinely fast bowlers they are a team to watch.
As for SriLanka , they are still far too dependent on their two world-class batsmen Sangakarra and Jayawardene. Tharanga and Thirimanne are talented but the rest of the batting is unreliable. In the bowling department , Malinga is still going strong and Herath is dangerous but beyond that the rest of the bowlers are unproven . I am surprised at how the fortunes of Ajantha Mendis have fallen . When he first came on the scene , he seemed unplayable but opposing batsmen have sorted him out and his place in the side is iffy. Reading the comments of SriLankan fans one wonders if there is anything to their complaints that the politics of selection has resulted in some good players being denied a place . Is there anything to their gripes or is it the usual sour grapes from those whose favorites have been left out ? Still and all , it is a credit to the SriLankans , that their tiny nation with a population of only 20 million is able to do so well in international cricket.