Clean sweep - a possibility
The Lankans must pluck a leaf from Dhoni's different approach, batting under pressure
By Gamini Seanadhira
When Mahendra Singh Dhoni slammed two successive, huge sixes off Russel Arnold to signal the fourth consecutive Indian triumph over Sri Lanka, a thundering ovation exploded at the Nehru Stadium amidst a grand fire works display. India had clinched the Vediocon Cup sans much fuss, with yet another three games in hand in the seven match series.
In a match where fortunes fluctuated pendulum wise, Dhoni and Suresh Raina provided the decisive twist with a record 82 runs stand for the seventh wicket to guide the hosts to a scintillating four - wicket victory.
It's obvious that the Lankans are experiencing a tough time on Indian sail. The way the things are working out, one must not be shocked, if they receive a thorough white wash in this seven encounter series.
Though one expected an interesting battle between the two Asian giants in the in the ODI arena before the commencement of the tournament, the Indians made the Lankans a mere midget with their superior performance.
The visitors failed to match the hosts brilliant batting, bowling and fielding at Nagpur, Mohali, Jaipur and Pune in the concluded four games.
At Nagpur, in the first battle, their bowlers received the shock treatment in the process of Indias impregnable score of 350 with Sachin Tendulka, Patan and Dravid leading the way with flamboyant knocks of 93, 85 and 85 not out respectively. Though the target was tough, one expected the 1996 wored champions with an high image in the current one day scene, to give a solid account of themselves with the bat, at least
to come closer to the winning total. But they folded up tamely collecting only 198 runs to leave the Indians the victor by 151 runs.
At Mohali in the second clash the Lankans batting was even more pathetic. They were skittled out for just 122 runs, and it was short work for the Indians. It took only 20 overs for them to wrap things up to win by 8 wickets.
It was pleasing to see the Lankan top order batsmen perform to their true ability at jaipur in the third meeting, piling up a fighting score of 298 runs with Kumar Sangakkara stroking a magnificent unbeatren 138 and Mahela Jayawardena contributing a fluent 71. But their bowlers failed to deliver the goods. They were made to look like mere novices by Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He pulverised them with scant respect to
compile a hurricon 183 not out. This knock that made Dhoni another god like Sachin Tendulka overnight in cricket crazy India, contained 15 boundaries and 10 massive sixes. Dhoni also received one million Indian rupees as a special award for his memorable innings. India humbled the Lankans a third time to win by four wickets, scoring 303 for six wickets in 45.4 overs.
The fourth encounter at Pune, too, saw an inspiring performance by the Lankan top order willow wilders that helped them to reach a respectable total of 262 runs in 49.5 overs. But the chances of compiling a higher total disappeared when they slumped from 240 for 4 to be all out for 260. Six wickets crashing for 22 runs. Again an irresponsible show by their middle order and the tail. Going by India's high standard
displayed during this series, it was quite evident that the hosts fourth consecutive victory was on the cards. Though they achieved it in 45.4 overs with four wickets in tact, they had some anxious moments when the score was 180 for 6, Dhoni being the only recognised batsman that they could depend on. 93 balls to get 82 runs was not a simple task.
The Lankan batsmen must pluck a leaf from Dhoni's style of batting in this contest. One may class him as a pinch hitter, but he proved otherwise at Pune when he shouldered the responsibility of guiding his team to victory with a different approach, partnering Suresh Raina, raw material in international cricket.
The pair was never bogged down by the pressure. Taking singles, two's and three's, the duo intelligently whittled down the deficit and pruned it to 12 before Dhoni finished it off with a flurish, hitting Arnold for 2 successive sixes.
The unexpected bowling changes by the Lankan skipper, Marvan Atapattu, without question proved that he was panicky. Introducing Jayasuriya, Dilshan and Arnold when Chaminda Vaas had four more overs to bowl was silly. Muttiah Muralitharan too was exposed a bit too late as the Nehru stadium wicket allowed more turn during India's innings. Murali with his vicious turn certainly would have made the Indian batsmen
struggle early in the innings if he was given the opportunity. The only plus point for Sri Lanka at Pune was to see Atapattu coming out of his poor run to stroke a superb 87, batting at No 5 position.
Risking Kumar Sangakkara at the number one slot when the services of Upul Tharanga was available is another debatable issue.
There's no point crying over the spilt milk now. The Lankans have well and truly lost the series. With yet another three games to be played in the tournament that will not generate much interest, it's now left for the Lankan coach Tom Moody, whose first foreign tour had turned sour, to re-mould his boys and spice them with true grit and a killer instinct to come out strongely and beat the opponents comprehensively,
disprove the critics prediction of a clean sweep and save face with a 4-3 series defeat.