SL finally nip one

India’s chances of thrashing their island neighbours to a whitewash were effaced by Tillakratne Dilshan and Russell Arnold, whose unbeaten 131-run sixth wicket stand ensured that Sri Lanka clinch their first win in the seven-match ODI series, at Ahmedabad.

India rested three of their top players – Sachin Tendulkar, Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh – to give the new crop a chance to show what they are made of, in the middle. Losing the toss and batting first, Virender Sehwag strolled to the middle with his Test opening partner Gautam Gambhir.

A lot was expected of Sehwag. He has failed, as yet, to leave his mark on this series. He has got starts, some tentative, some flashy, but hasn’t managed to convert one into a long innings, which leaves the opposition in shambles. Ironically, it was Gambhir who turned out to be the aggressive one on the day. He smacked Dilhara Fernando for two fours in his first over, and after getting him removed from the attack, he slapped the replacement, Nuwan Zoysa, over the top of square leg for a six.

It wasn’t long before Sehwag, drastically subdued than his usual extravagant self, fell, clean bowled to Zoysa. His lackluster innings of 19 constituted of just one boundary, certainly a rarity. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who has been making waves throughout the country, winning matches, attracting the opposite sex with his long locks, earning commercial contracts, and all that jazz, was promoted up the order, in what now seems to be a rotation scheme of sorts, until the one best suited isn’t found. He didn’t shine on this opportunity though, falling first ball, LBW, to give Zoysa a hat-trick chance.

Zoysa didn’t get the hat-trick, neither did he stay on the field for long, being replaced by supersub Farveez Maharoof, after the former was having some fitness problems. Yuvraj Singh, who came in before captain Rahul Dravid in the batting order, looked tentative at best. His struggle in the middle, possibly for a place in the side in the long run, lasted for an anxious three runs off 21 balls, before he was caught at mid-wicket off the bowling of Chaminda Vaas.

Out came Dravid with India struggling at 69-3, and thus also the hopes of still making it to a 300 score. He stayed dormant, comparatively, while Gambhir blasted his way to his maiden century off 93 balls, before he held out to mid-wicket off a slower ball. The partnership of 128 put India well on track, unless they managed to bungle it up, which they did.

The new-comers, Venugopal Rao and Suresh Raina, fell in quick succession to Maharoof, followed by Ajit Agarkar, to have India reeling at 230-7, with the looming possibility of being bowled out inside their full quota of overs. Dravid carried the load on his shoulders though, managing to score 50 runs off the last five overs, and take the score to 285-8 at the end of 50 overs, also reaching his hundred in the last over.

Sri Lanka’s larger problem this series has lied in the loss of form of Sanath Jayasuriya. Nary a time does he not click against India. If indeed the visitors were going to make a match out of it, they had to take the attack to the bowlers, and there is no better proponent of this than Jayasuriya. Unfortunately, he couldn’t bring back the magic he is famous for, and edged Agarkar, who on the other hand from being out of the side a few weeks back finds himself the lead bowler, to Rao at first slip.

The reply couldn’t have got off the a worse start, but Kumar Sangakkara and Upul Tharanga tried their best to keep the chase on track, engaging in some aggressive play, despite the early blow. However, both fell in quick succession just as the second power play was about to come to and end, which left Sri Lanka in a bit of a glitch, with two out-of-form players coming to the middle.

Both Mahela Jayawardene and Marvan Atapattu haven’t score a significant amount of runs for a while, and needed to regain their touch before consolidating. While the former took his time, the latter though was bent on attacking, with the required rate on the ascent. He smacked five boundaries in his run-a-ball 39, before a leading edge off Murali Kartik got the better of him. Jayawardene fell a little while later too, run out, and the Indians were elating with joy, with Sri Lanka at 155-5.

Sri Lanka were down, but not out. Arnold, on his day, has crafted quite a few rescue operations, while Dilshan, though seeming brash with his stroke-play at times has showed that odd glint of determination, which makes match-winners. What began with cheeky singles, turned into easily pushed twos, and then later punishing loose deliveries for boundaries. The crowd went mum when Dilshan reached his half century, and by the time the winning runs were scored half of them had already left the stadium.

The unbroken 131-run stand was just what Sri Lanka needed to not only salvage some pride, but also regain enough confidence to make the final two matches more competitive.

India 285-8 in 50 overs
G Gambhir 103 (97), R Dravid 103* (120)
DNT Zoysa 2-29 (5), MF Maharoof 4-20 (5)

Sri Lanka 286-5 in 47.4 overs
TM Dilshan 81* (67), RP Arnold 49* (47)
AB Agarkar 2-59 (9.4)

Sri Lanka won by five wickets

Man of the Match
TM Dilshan – 81* (67)

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