How on earth does a ground manage to come up with a record as lopsided as this one? Forget the win-loss statistics — the real eye-opener is this:
- They went on to amass a big score; in the same duration, the average runs-per-wicket of 30.71 in the first innings at the Premadasa is higher than any other venue in the country that has hosted more than one ODI.
- They bowled India out cheaply; the Premadasa has the lowest average runs-per-wicket – 20.97 – in the second innings among all venues in that span of time. (Minimum of eight matches at the venue).
That’s a 10 run differential per wicket between the teams batting first and second at this venue — one hundred runs differential per team on average. Such aberrations take cricket out of the realm of skill, and reduce it to the spin of the coin — and when we talk of ODIs losing their attraction and of the need for reform, the topic that rarely if ever comes up is just how much loaded wickets contribute to the boredom.
Grant a lot of things about India’s performance in the final: Sachin Tendulkar turned the clock back — well, almost — with an artistic performance; as many as three top order batsmen played good knocks around the batting mainstay; Harbhajan Singh rediscovered — one hopes not momentarily — the virtues of flight and loop; two part-time bowlers, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, bowled 14 overs between them for 50 runs and two wickets…
If I were doing a conventional match report for Rediff, I suspect I’d at the end of the game have written reams about the triumph of will, about how India shrugged aside the record hammering of Friday and came out with all guns blazing, how when the chips were down the veterans aided by the captain set the game up for the bravura finish and how on the chase, despite bowlers and fielders being hampered by dew, the team helmed by its Captain Cool held its collective nerve to triumph over the invincible home team.
It is an easy narrative to construct. And when I made my living writing cricket, it was the narrative that came fluently, automatically, at the conclusion of a game like this.
A truer storyline would be that India in the field did its utmost to lose the game, and was foiled by prevailing conditions.
The fielders — Yusuf Pathan and Virat Kohli in particular — dropped sitters. MS Dhoni uncharacteristically [uncharacteristically not because he is the best keeper currently playing, but because his glove skills have visibly improved since his entry into international cricket, and he is now a ‘safe’ keeper] missed a relatively simple stumping off Raina.
The overall standard of ground fielding was ordinary at best, creating such confidence in the opposition that batsmen repeatedly ran singles to short positions on the on and off [at one point during the Kadamby-Kapugedara partnership RP Singh, not the most distinguished in the field on the day, was reduced to fury by a fielding effort that converted a tight one into a cruise for two, with the batsmen even contemplating the possibility of a tight third].
It wasn’t a Cup-winning performance by any yardstick — and yet, despite an in-form Sri Lankan batting lineup that goes way down deep, India won with ease — and for that you have to give the Player of the Match award to the Premadasa curator, who more than any of the 22 players on the field exerted the utmost influence on the outcome.
Hey, India won without its two influential openers [and what I’d have given for the sight of Viru Sehwag in prime form on this track] and its most influential seam bowler, while coming off a layoff — so, glory be. But it is hard to avoid the thought that if the team is to do significantly well in the upcoming Champions’ Trophy, it needs an extended session in the dry docks of a training camp, where the support staff can go to work scraping off the inch-thick rust and getting lethargic arms and legs — and minds — moving again.
In passing, am I the only one who thinks the Sri Lankan bowling card was anomalous, and uncharacteristic of Kumar Sangakkara’s usually assured leadership? Thilan Thushara looked ordinary — and that is being kind — at the start, and yet he got to finish his quota while Nuwan Kulasekhara, who held a good line throughout, bowled two short. Even more inexplicably, Angelo Mathews bowled a mere three overs of tidy seam before being banished into some dark hole in the ground.