K.C. Vijaya Kumar
Dhoni’s men chase down a big target to keep their date with Sri Lanka in the final
Karachi: Relief and joy jostled for space in the Indian ranks as a final berth was secured on the basis of batting efficiency.
Chasing Sri Lanka’s 308 for eight in 50 overs in a crucial STAR Asia Cup semi-final league match that had inscribed ‘must-win’ in the hearts of M.S. Dhoni’s men, India registered a six-wicket victory at the National Stadium here on Thursday night.
India scored 310 for four in 46.5 overs and with six points in its kitty, will face Sri Lanka again in the final here on July 6 while Pakistan and Bangladesh will clash in a match that will reiterate the ‘playing-for-pride’ cliché on Friday.
A victory was imperative for India as Pakistan was just a step away while Sri Lanka had already qualified for the final.
Well begun is…
However there was no hint of nerves as Virender Sehwag (42) and Gautam Gambhir (68, 61b, 11x5) sprinkled adrenaline with 92-run partnership off 70 deliveries before M.S. Dhoni who seems to love the adjective ‘dogged’ rather than ‘blind aggression’, these days, buckled down with a valuable 67 (62b, 5x4, 1x6).
Dhoni’s knock and his 99-run third-wicket partnership off 92 deliveries with Suresh Raina (54, 66b, 3x4) ensured that the middle overs slipped past Muralitharan’s web.
Dhoni was all brick and mortar and Raina after a few futile swings with the bat, settled down.
The rebuilding process rode on good running between the wickets though he fell while testing 39-year old Sanath Jayasuriya’s arm from fine-leg.
Dhoni, who went without a boundary for 36 deliveries, gradually eased his solid frame and carted Jayasuriya into the stands.
A paddle sweep off Muralitharan also hinted at a relaxed mind but a tiring body hampered his tenure and he fell to the master spinner.
The winning runs were ushered in by Yuvraj Singh (36 n.o.), who after looking ungainly while ducking into bouncers, picked the long-on fence for target practice. His cover drive off Kulasekara finally confirmed India’s walk into final.
Earlier the hunt was on as Sehwag and Gambhir galloped away with their mix of disdain and deft placement. The Delhi duo initially capitalised on Dilhara Fernando’s pace and Sehwag’s dangerous mood was evident in a six off Kulasekara before a tame dismissal cut short his stay.
Sehwag tried to scoop Kulasekara and ended up lobbing to short fine-leg. Gambhir meanwhile continued to chip and charge before paying the price while trying to work Muralitharan off his legs.
In the evening, a string of steady runs helped Sri Lanka inch past 300 after Mahela Jayawardene opted to bat. The start was muffled as the law of averages caught up with Kumar Sangakkara. The opener, with three centuries in this tournament, edged a pull off Ishant Sharma down the leg side and Dhoni was ecstatic.
A similIar dismissal-pattern was repeated with Sanath Jayasuriya (43) after he thrived on the swat past mid-wicket and two reprieves as Yuvraj grassed a tough chance and Praveen Kumar messed up an easy offering. At 71 for two, Jayawardene (50) found welcome runs and also found a carbon copy in partner Kapugedera, who top-scored with 75 (78b, 7x4, 1x6). Kapugedera seemed to have that extra second while bleeding Irfan Pathan and Ishant with some pleasing drives.
Jayawardene and Kapugedera shared a 78-run third-wicket partnership before the skipper lofted left arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and found Gambhir.
Kapugedera later scripted a 68-run fourth-wicket partnership with Chamara Silva (50) as the runs kept coming and in the slog, Weeraratne and Thushara hastened the flow and left India staring at a challenging total.
Dhoni did try and mix it up on the field, having Ishant partner R.P. Singh in the opening spells that were reasonably tight but beyond a point, the team’s lethargy, a visible sign all through the tournament, caught up but thankfully in the end India managed the last laugh, a tired one at that.SCOREBOARD
Sri Lanka: S. Jayasuriya c Dhoni b Ishant 43, K. Sangakkara c Dhoni b Ishant 7, M. Jayawardene c Gambhir b Ojha 50, C. Kapugedera lbw b Praveen 75, C. Silva (run out) 50, T. Dilshan c R.P. Singh b Irfan 15, K. Weeraratne c Gambhir b R.P. Singh 23, T. Thushara (run out) 23, K. Kulasekara (not out) 6, M. Muralitharan (not out) 1; Extras (b-1, lb-11, w-3): 15; Total (for eight wkts. in 50 overs): 308.
Fall of wickets: 1-16, 2-71, 3-149, 4-217, 5-245, 6-263, 7-287, 8-307.
India bowling: R.P. Singh 10-1-44-1, Ishant 10-0-55-2, Irfan 10-0-80-1, Praveen 6-0-36-1, Ojha 10-0-55-1, Sehwag 3-0-22-0, Rohit 1-0-4-0.
India: G. Gambhir lbw Muralitharan 68, V. Sehwag c Fernando b Kulasekara 42, S. Raina (run out) 54, M.S. Dhoni b Muralitharan 67, Yuvraj (not out) 36, Rohit (not out) 22; Extras (lb-11, w-9, nb-1): 21; Total (for four wkts. in 46.5 overs): 310.
Fall of wickets: 1-92, 2-135, 3-234, 4-253.
Sri Lanka bowling: Fernando 9-0-52-0, Kulasekara 9.5-0-71-1, Thushara 8-0-67-0, Muralitharan 10-0-44-2, Weeraratne 5-0-36-0, Jayasuriya 3-0-19-0, Dilshan 2-0-10-0.