It Was Much Closer Than A ‘Comprehensive Series Loss’
CONCEDING the ODI series to India 1-4 is disheartening, coming as it does on the heels of Sri Lanka’s admirable 3-1 triumph over Pakistan in the series before, in June. The Indians, remember, were resuming international cricket after a two-month holiday, during which period Sri Lanka was honed by a taxing schedule of three Tests, five ODIs and two T-20s against Pakistan, two of which contests the islanders won while the T-20 was shared. So, if the forecast didn’t tilt quite in the Sri Lankans’ favour, a closely run series was pretty much assured.
Of course, a world champion team was never going to be easy meat, but any suggestion prior to battle that Sri Lanka, second to India in the last World Cup, would manage only one win out of five, might’ve been brushed aside as nonsensical. So, full marks to Dhoni’s men for giving sense to what looked like nonsense. Commentators, especially from across the waters, described the performance in superlatives, and understandably so; a 4-1 success after all is praiseworthy.
But to call it a “comprehensive series win”, as most commentators did, is being a tad too exuberant simply because it doesn’t tell the full story. Sure the final score line conveys a one-sided contest , but not all one-sided score lines tell the real story, much like in tennis: a win in straight sets, on face value, might infer a one-sided contest, but, say, scores of 7/5, 6/4, 7/5 by no means represent a comprehensive win, an unchallenged triumph.
It is so necessary to look back on the matches and see if this has been “comprehensive series win” for India or patriotism’s exuberance in the moment of triumph. A review of the results is revealing. Of India’s four wins, only one was won in a canter (‘comprehensively’): i.e. the fourth encounter which the visitors won by six wickets with 46 balls remaining. On the other hand, Sri Lanka’s only win, in the second game, was by far the most “comprehensive’’ of the series: by 9 wickets and as early as in the 20th over.
India won the other three games, but by no means ‘comprehensively.’ In the opening ODI, piling up a huge 314, it looked to be a stroll for India, with the home team on 172/5 in the 36th over. From then on, though, the visitors were subject to some concern as Sri Lanka advanced to 269/6 in the 47th over with Sangakkara in indomitable form. Eventually, the Sri Lankans came up short by 21 runs– and Shewag’s let off on zero was painfully regrettable. He made 96.
In ODI no. 3, Sri Lanka rendered obsolete 30 overs, breezing past India’s138 in 19.5 overs for the loss of only Tharanga.
The third ODI was anybody’s, and should’ve been the home team’s but for the flooring of a simple catch. Set a target of 287, India were 196/5 in the 39th over when Raina was put down when on one. He went on to make a 45-ball 65 n.o. and India squeezed home with just two balls to spare. Were that catch held, Sri Lanka might well have taken a 2/1 lead – and perhaps set the series on a different course.
The fourth match, as mentioned before, was won by the Indians in a canter.
The final ODI was pretty much a duplicate of the first, except that Mathews was handed the leadership reins by the resting Jayewardene. Responding to India’s sizeable 294, Sri Lanka fought back from 102/5 to 204/5, requiring 70 runs from 69 balls if India’s margin was made to look a lot less “comprehensive” at 3/2. But the star of the innings, Thirimanne, was needlessly run out at a time when he had the Indian attack down to its knees. Sri Lanka thus was unable to convert a promise of victory to victory. Again.
There were handicaps too that Sri Lanka had to cope with: injury in the first ODI put Nuwan Kulasekera out of action for the rest of the series, followed by Sangakkara’s withdrawal from the fourth and fifth matches, with a fractured hand. So without the side’s most dominant batsman and its sharpest new-ball bowler, Sri Lanka’s task was always going to be doubly difficult – but to have run close in all but one of the five matches thus can’t be a performance that deserves the epitaph: “comprehensively” beaten.
This is not to detract from India’s success. Truth be told, the world champions deserved the series win chiefly because their batsmen, collectively, were much the better. Only once did their batting wholly fail – and Sri Lanka won on that occasion. In all of the other four games, they had four-five batsmen (Kholi, Gambhir, Raina, Dhoni and even Pathan) who were able to beat-back any threats of a collapse. The same cannot be said of Sri Lanka’s supposedly dependable batsmen: Dilshan, Tharanga, Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Mathews. Bar Sangakkara, the others hardly proved to be dependable. Even so our batting was able to seriously challenge India in four matches – and that is a tribute to the performances of the lesser lights, specifically Thirimanne and Mendis.
Much as I would’ve liked to add Chandimal’s name to the two aforementioned, his contributions disqualify him: 13, 6 n.o., 0, 28 and 8 (55 in all; average, 15). Compare that with Thirimanne’s: 7, 47 and 77 (114; 38) and Mendis’s: 45 n.o. 17 and 72 (134; 44). That he figured in all of the five matches as opposed to Thirimanne’s inclusion for four and Mendis, three, is a reflection of the selectors’ confidence in his obvious talents. Skipper Jayewardene, in fact, gave up his no.4 slot for the young man, and said he has no intention of reclaiming his long-held position. In other words: Chandimal is the permanent no. 4.
Whether his run of failure against India is a consequence of his presumed permanency is perhaps for psychologists to answer, but cricket’s book will explain it away as a brief period of aberration that all batsmen are subjected to. There can be no quarrels about his talents, but his temperament is questionable. Clearly, his impatience to establish early dominance over bowlers has led to self-destruct, vulnerability evident not just in the recent series alone. His problem seems to be more of attitude, of arrogance. Presumably, the guarantee of permanency was given so he might learn to overcome his self-destructing ways, but he’s is taking too long a time to learn that lesson to be of much good to him and the team.
This is not a call for his head or to cast doubts about his suitability, but no.4 is a venerable position and he ought to respect the responsibilities asked of the job in that slot – not, say, let-fly a reverse-sweep, first-ball. It wouldn’t be bad idea to put Chandimal’s no.4 permanency on hold for awhile and experiment with a few others. Perhaps, the right-hander swapping positions with no.7 Thirimanne might be considered.
Overall, notwithstanding the 1/4 loss some positives are to be had from the series. At least five threshold- players (bowlers Eranga, Pradeep and Senanayake, all-rounder Mendis and batsman Kapugedera) were given a turn or more. These experimentations no doubt would give the selectors a clearer idea of the suitable candidates for the T-20 World Cup and the tour to Australia later this year; Mendis has certainly put himself up on the list of candidates while Eranga’s dismissal of Gambhir and Kholi in his solitary appearance against the Indians, the T 20, should keep in the reckoning.
In that respect the series hasn’t been a “comprehensive’’ loss.