The Sunday Leader

Sanga’s Team: Grit Without Glory

Kumar Sangakkara

Kumar Sangakkara

The final report on Sri Lanka’s ongoing tour of India will not be written in the way Kumar Sangakkara believed it might. A passage to India, as visiting cricketers well know, is never a journey through primrose path – and, ironically, no team has found the expedition quite as arduous as those from just across the waters, the nearest neighbours.
In five tours since becoming a Test nation more than a quarter century ago, Sri Lanka has never managed to win a Test match on Indian soil – an anomaly that skipper Sangakkara spoke, with some optimism, of rectifying. But turns out any rectification of that old anomaly will have to wait for another tour; on the present one, two Tests were conceded and one drawn.

The first Test had raised hopes of a fulfillment of Sangakkara’s promise. The Test, of course, was drawn, but if a team looked like winning, it was Sri Lanka, whose massive 700-plus in the first innings left India in deficit of more than 300 runs on the fourth evening. The home team’s steely defiance, however, could not be broken, and they survived.

But Sri Lanka’s dominance of the first Test nourished a belief in the islanders that the elusive Test win isn’t as remote as the proverbial pot of gold at rainbow’s end – and can well be achieved in one of the two remaining Tests. Or so it seemed. But not for the first time, Sri Lanka’s cricketers had flattered only to flop. Where India, in the first Test, showed defiance in the face of adversity, Sri Lanka couldn’t, losing the second on the fourth afternoon and the third, on the fifth morning – both by an innings.

Successive defeats are demolarising

Any way you look at it, successive defeats are demoralising, and previously after such gut-wrenching losses, Sri Lanka has played out the remainder of tour as good as under the white flag of surrender; the best example of capitulation-following-defeat is to be found in our last tour to India, in 2005. Then, after the drawn first Test, India walloped us in the next two Tests – and then did the same in the four ODIs that followed; Sri Lanka won the fifth match, but eventually surrendered the series, 1/6.

Bloodied but not bowed

So, after the recent Test series was lost 0/2, the prospect that we might cave in, as we did in 2005, was real. And for Sangakkara’s men to pick themselves up from such depths of depression and present a serious challenge to the home team in the two T20s and in the first of five ODIs, Tuesday, speaks much of their resolve. Clearly, Dhoni’s men, on home turf, are superior, but that is a fact Sangakkara’s team visibly begrudge acknowledging; bloodied they might be, but bowed not.

T-20 might not be Test, but the team’s resolve to mend confidence tattered by walloping defeats in the Tests was utterly palpable – and was the reason for our triumph in first of two T-20s. No one showcased the determination to restore pride than skipper Sangakkara himself. His 37-ball undefeated 78 was a study in arrogance and clearly inspired the win.

The next T-20, however, was conceded, but not by much. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Muralidaran was sidelined by injury; his replacement, Weeraratne, went for 43 in three overs, the sort of hemorrhage Muralidaran wouldn’t have allowed. India eventually overhauled Sri Lanka’s 206 with five balls to spare – an end that might’ve been different had Muralidaran been on the field.

In the final analysis, a tied T-20 meant that our level of confidence for the five-match ODI series hadn’t dipped too much – a descent that loomed after successive thrashings in the preceding Test series.

A dreamer’s dream

But what ever morale that might’ve been salvaged from the T-20 was sundered in the opening three-odd hours of the first ODI, Tuesday. In that time Sehwag, Tendulkar and Dhoni had savaged to death the Sri Lankan bowlers. After they had rioted their way to 414/7, the match seemed as good as over. Those who thought it wasn’t cited the South Africans successful chase of 400-plus against Australia. That Sri Lanka might duplicate that record feat, however, was more wishful thinking than a practical proposition – a dreamer’s dream, if you like.

A huge defeat in the opener would’ve damaged morale beyond repair and opened the door for a series rout, as it did in 2005. Clearly, that was something the team had set their minds on guarding against. The pitch, of course, had preserved all its favours for the batsmen and the boundary lines were beckoningly close. But overhauling 414 on any pitch, on any ground takes some doing. If Sangakkara’s team had set out on conceding an inevitable defeat without any great loss to dignity that would’ve been understandable. But then to come within three runs of victory is, well, as good as winning, in terms grit and pride.

Dilshan and skipper Sangakkara played the innings of their lives, and Tharanga flourished to ensure his reinstatement into the permanent ranks. Together, the top order trio had contributed 317. And suddenly the ‘impossible’ didn’t look so impossible. When Sangakkara departed in the 37th over (for an amazing 43-ball 90), Sri Lanka needed just 99 – gettable, given that Jayasuriya and Jayewardene, collectively counting 753 ODIs, were awaiting their turn.

Their performance on the day, however, betrayed their enormous experience: Jayasuriya charged down the pitch as a junior cricketer might under pressure, and Jayewardene ran for a non-existent second single as if the outcome of the match depended on it. Kandamby and Matthews, collectively counting only 39 ODIs, battled admirably to keep victory within sight. This is not an indictment against the youngsters, but clearly the nerve-grating situation they were in called for men more hardened by experience. The manner of their dismissals in the heat of the contest reflected the lack of experience: Kandamby forgot to ground his bat and was run out; Matthews struck the fourth-last ball, a full toss, down the throat of mid wicket – and a remarkable back-from-the-dead bid expired.

Losing the series’ first encounter is a huge setback, and normally is harbinger of more misfortunes. The omens for Sangakkara’s team, however, haven’t been any different since conceding the Test series a fortnight ago, but that hasn’t diminished their resolve – rather only strengthened it.

The start of the second ODIs is hours away as these concluding lines are put on paper. Sangakkara’s men might just have evened the score with the Indians – if, however, they’re 0/2 down, don’t write them off:  this is a team whose combativeness intensifies when cornered.

3 Comments for “Sanga’s Team: Grit Without Glory”

  1. Quadir

    Good report. I think Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan were the difference in this match, they won it for India. While batsmen of both sides made noticeable contributions on a track that was dead for bowlers, Singh gave away less than six runs an over in his ten, bowled superbly and though both his wickets, Dilshan and Jayasuriya were gifts, he was the pick of the bowlers till Zaheer’s final spell made all the difference and took India to victory. Bottom line; great effort Sri Lanka and we wish they go on to win the series, they deserve to.

  2. Run outs have been the bane of SL cricket especially under pressure. From memory, 5 years ago, Marvan Atapattu got run out without grounding his bat. Prior to taht Gurusinghe gat run out in Australia about 15 years ago, if not for which, the match would have taken a different turn. Recently Matthews got run out being more interested in his century than in winning the match and that run out cost us the match ( I remember asking Mahela 12 years ago when he scored a century against Australia in Adelaide whether he genuinely was more interested in our winning the match more than his century, the way he replied I believed him. A Senior executive of SCG who knows many leading cricketers in the world told me taht Mahela and Kumar are 2 Gentleman cricketers the like of whom he has not met). Kandamby lazily got run out without grounding his bat in the 1st ODI. Other instances of batsmen getting run out by following the direction of the ball and being too late as a result. Also misunderstandings in making a start and stopping and being runout. A simple axiom is let the team make a decision that the batsman (even a tail lender) hitting a ball in front of him and calling for a run should on no account be negatived by the other bat. Likewise calling for any ball going behind the bat shud be the priority of the non striker.
    Ranjan Rodrigo of Sydney

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