Saturday, April 2, 2011

Final: India won by 6 wickets

India v Sri Lanka, World Cup 2011, final, Mumbai

DHONI keeps India

Lasith Malinga stunned India with two early wickets, including the one that thwarted Sachin Tendulkar's bid for his 100th international century, but Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli responded with a doughty third-wicket stand of 83 to keep their team's hopes very much alive in the World Cup final at Mumbai. However, when Kohli was brilliantly caught by Tillakaratne Dilshan for 35, India were 124 for 3 after 25 overs, needing another 151 to secure the crown for the first time in 28 years.
Following a blistering finale to the Sri Lankan innings, in which 63 runs were smacked in five Powerplay overs, the onus fell on Virender Sehwag to respond with a volley of his own. But, having hit a boundary from the first ball of six of India's previous eight innings in the tournament, he was denied by Malinga at the seventh time of asking, and then worse was to follow one ball later. Trapped on the back foot by Malinga's skiddy round-arm style, he was pinned in front of middle and leg, and not even a review could save him from a second-ball duck.
The Wankhede Stadium was stunned into an eery silence, but as Mahela Jayawardene had proved for Sri Lanka, this is a surface that rewards finesse as much as brutality. To that end, Tendulkar started with an ominous intent, as he responded to a crushing weight of expectation with 18 runs from his first 12 balls, including two wonderful boundaries in three balls - a straight-driven four as Nuwan Kulasekera overpitched, followed by a crashing cut as he dropped too short and wide.
Malinga, however, was never less than menacing, and having hurried Tendulkar with a lifter outside off, he lured him into a loose drive to a full-length outswinger that grazed the edge to be snaffled by Kumar Sangakkara. His personal dream was over, and with it went the hopes of a faithless minority in the crowd, who turned to leave as soon as their hero was gone. But Gambhir and Kohli were in no mood to surrender, and slowly but surely they rebuilt the prospects of their team.
Thisara Perera and Nuwan Kulasekera played vital roles with the bat, but in their primary role as front-line seamers they lacked the menace of Malinga and were easily squeezed for 65 runs in their combined allocation of 10 overs. It took the introduction of the newcomer to the squad, Suraj Randiv, to unsettle the Indian accumulation, as his high-kicking offspin prompted a loose drive from Gambhir on 30, who was dropped by a diving Kulasekera at long-off.
In the final match of his career, Muttiah Muralitharan was held back until the 19th over, and though he started with a long-hop that was cut straight to point, he might have made the breakthrough from his second ball, as Gambhir galloped back for a second run to third man only for Sangakkara to fumble the shy as it bounced awkwardly in front of him.
But the breakthrough finally came from the third spinner in Sri Lanka's armoury. Dilshan's second over included a beautifully placed cut for four from Kohli, but one ball later he was on his way, superbly caught in the fingertips as Dilshan dived full-stretch across the crease to intercept a lofted drive. It left Gambhir, whose 56-ball half-century was an excellent controlled performance, and MS Dhoni with a massive responsibility on their shoulders, against an asking rate that was approaching six an over.
Mahela Jayawardene saved his best innings of the tournament for the day his team most needed it, as Sri Lanka withstood an inspired spell from Zaheer Khan to set India a stiff target of 275 in the World Cup final in Mumbai. On a hard and true surface that assisted the seamers but offered value for correct strokeplay, Jayawardene lifted Sri Lanka's tempo after a sluggish start before clicking into overdrive in the batting Powerplay, to finish unbeaten on a priceless 103 not out from 88 balls.
Four years ago at Sabina Park, Jayawardene produced a supreme century against New Zealand to carry his side to their second World Cup final, but this was an innings of even more exquisite application. He came to the crease with his side under the cosh at 60 for 2 in the 17th over, having been throttled by a Zaheer new-ball spell that contained three consecutive maidens and just six runs in five overs all told. But he responded with a tempo that scarcely wavered from a run a ball, until with Nuwan Kulasekera for company, he opened his shoulders to power through to his hundred from 83 balls - the sixth man to do so on the game's biggest stage.
The contrast between the start of Sri Lanka's innings and its finish was stark. With Zaheer leading the line, India restricted their opponents to 31 for 1 in the mandatory ten-over Powerplay, their lowest total of the tournament to date, below the 42 for 2 that they had made in their group-stage defeat against Pakistan. But then, at the death, the same attack was battered for 63 in the batting Powerplay, with Zaheer's final two overs being butchered for 17 and 18 respectively. Thisara Perera, in his first match for almost a month, set the seal on a stunning turnaround with 22 from nine deliveries, including a last-ball six that was battered from a good length over midwicket.
For an occasion of this magnitude, cool heads were the order of the day, and until Jayawardene trumped his efforts, no man in the stadium seemed cooler than Zaheer. His exemplary first spell realised seam, swing, pace and bounce, all allied to an immaculate line and length, as the hapless Upul Tharanga was tortured to the tune of two runs in 20 balls, before luring a fatal snick to slip where Virender Sehwag's sharp snaffle epitomised a watertight Indian fielding effort. Then, when he returned in the 37th over, Zaheer deceived Chamara Kapugedera with a beautiful slower ball that was driven to short cover, on route to equalling Shahid Afridi as the tournament's leading wicket-taker.
As one of five veterans from India's last World Cup final appearance in 2003, Zaheer's initial efforts could not have been further removed from the over-pumped performance he had produced against Australia in Johannesburg, in which he was cracked for 67 in seven overs, including 15 in the very first over of the game. This time, he did not concede that many until the end of his seventh over, but the speed with which his figures were vandalised was astounding. Though each of Jayawardene's 13 fours was a classy stroke in its own right, none was better than the last of them, an inside-out cover-drive to one of Zaheer's trademark outswinging yorkers, as he premeditated the late movement and filleted the ring of fielders on the off-side.
Alongside Jayawardene were two hard-hitting allrounders who have scarcely been called upon in the tournament to date, such has been the success of Sri Lanka's much-vaunted top four. Nuwan Kulasekera was eventually run out for 32 by a direct hit from MS Dhoni with 13 balls of the innings remaining, but he received a pat of gratitude from his team-mate as he went by, given how brilliantly he had responded to the needs of the hour. And then, by the time Perera had finished his onslaught, the decibel levels in the Wankhede Stadium had plummeted.
It had been a different story at the start of the day, when the excitement in the stands managed to drown out Kumar Sangakkara's call at the toss. After some confusion, with both captains believing they had won, the match referee Jeff Crowe eventually ordered a re-toss - which Sri Lanka won. And seeing as all but two of the previous nine World Cups had been won by the team batting first, it had the makings of a moment that would run and run.
At first, thanks to Zaheer, it seemed that India had done well to avoid taking first use of a seamer-friendly pitch. But inch by inch, Sri Lanka recovered the initiative. The mercurial Sreesanth was pressed into action because of the broken finger that Ashish Nehra had sustained against Pakistan, and conceded 52 runs in eight overs before Dhoni decided he could no longer be trusted. His first delivery led to a wildly over-optimistic lbw appeal against Tillakaratne Dilshan, for which he was warned to calm down by Aleem Dar, but despite a reasonably focussed start, the errors soon began to creep into his game.
It was Dilshan who loosened the early shackles with two fours in three balls in Sreesanth's third over, before Sangakkara followed up with two in two - a premeditated pull and an effortless straight drive - in a fifth over that also included an official warning for running on the wicket, and a free hit that was slashed through third man by Dilshan. But before he could build his innings, Harbhajan Singh bowled Dilshan round his legs in his second over for 33 from 49 balls.
India had two early wickets for their efforts, but to crack Sri Lanka's outer shell, three is the absolute minimum requirement, and with Sangakkara biding his time, Jayawardene crunched Harbhajan through point for four, before turning his attentions to Sreesanth, who was steered along the ground through third man, and the spin of Yuvraj Singh, who was belted through midwicket as he dropped short in his first over. On 48, Sangakkara suffered a rare lapse as he slashed at a wide ball from Yuvraj Singh to be caught behind at 122 for 3 in the 28th over, but thanks to Jayawardene's masterclass, there was no way through for India.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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