From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.39 :: Sep. 26, 2009

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CRICKET / COMPAQ CUP

Another title for Team India

Tendulkar and Harbhajan guide India to a tri-nation triumph in Sri Lanka. Over to S. Ram Mahesh.

The Compaq Cup, a week-long tri-series that was impossible to get excessively excited about, was a lot of things to a lot of people. An occasion for the title sponsor to unveil, during an underwhelming launch ceremony, the world’s first digital trophy, an LCD screen mounted on silverware to register the victor’s moment of glory; a chance for the Indian board to assist — purely philanthropically of course — Sri Lanka Cricket, which thereafter was at pains to point out how grateful it was to its benefactor for involving the most lucrative team in world cricket. And also an opportunity for India, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand to log game time before the Champions Trophy, not in conditions similar to South Africa, but who bothers with such piffle?

Apparently, some do. A telling moment occurred during the launch ceremony when Kumar Sangakkara was asked what the point of the tournament was — would it help Sri Lanka prepare for the Champions Trophy? Sangakkara smiled wryly at Daniel Vettori, who returned it with a knowing smile of his own, and said, “You can evaluate where you stand in your own conditions.

“If it has an effect other than (building) momentum and confidence is hard to say. The conditions will be different in South Africa; we’ll play a different combination as well.” Then, as if realising he had also to make the appropriate noises, added, “But yes, it’s always satisfying to win.”

Vettori did slightly better in selling the series, saying India added a lot to the tournament, not merely in giving his team two difficult opponents, but also in enhancing the spectacle. India, forced because of the Corporate Trophy back home to play back-to-back matches in Sri Lanka, had the opportunity to become number one in the world. This it did — for 24 hours — thanks to a comfortable win over New Zealand in its league game. The win was preceded by an impressive show of intent. Within two hours of arriving at the Taj Samudra, its hotel of choice, the Indian team was at the Premadasa Stadium, practising.

Unlike a majority of the net sessions under Gary Kirsten, the Indian coach, it wasn’t optional. Unfortunately for Gautam Gambhir, it was his only session of the tour — the left-handed opener aggravated a groin injury he had sustained in the Corporate Trophy, leaving India without two of its three preferred men at the top, Virender Sehwag not making the trip because of a shoulder injury. Besides the skill-work in the nets, the team worked hard on its fielding in the practice sessions. Fat good it did them, for some of the fielding, particularly in the final, came packaged with a laughter track.

But we get ahead of ourselves. Any cricket tournament has its moments, even one as seemingly pointless as the Compaq Cup. New Zealand, which suffered heavy losses, had, on the face of it, few things to celebrate. Shane Bond’s reintroduction to one-day cricket went well, however. Although not powering yet at full steam, Bond showed encouraging signs. His first spell in the opening game of the tournament was a display of control: he stepped up the pace on occasion, but he largely bowled within himself. The rhythm of the run-up and the smoothness of delivery was alluring, even if the backdrop of the grimy Premadasa Stadium detracted slightly from the visual.

The bowler of express pace is a unique animal, to be savoured at every opportunity. Bond may not touch the high pace he delivered as matter of routine in his pomp, but he is compelling viewing nevertheless. He adds a dimension to New Zealand the Kiwis haven’t often had in the past; one hopes his last few years in international cricket bring him as much joy as he has to fans around the world.

Sri Lanka has had its troubles in one-day cricket — a peculiar (but not inexplicable) occurrence, for the side has done well in Test cricket in this period. Thilan Samaraweera and Thilina Kandamby, an old boy reinventing himself and a youngster making his name, showed they might help resolve Sri Lanka’s middle-order problem.

Samaraweera’s century in the first game against New Zealand was an innings of sound construction. Perhaps it was helped by the simple instruction he was given: “Play as you would in a Test match”. Samaraweera literally did — for the first half of his innings.

But after he had familiarised himself with the slow pace of the wicket, he unveiled strokes both orthodox and heretical that were exceptional in their timing. But in crafting the innings, Samaraweera strained his hamstring and played no further part in the competition. Kandamby, whose batting has resonances of Arjuna Ranatunga’s methods, made two half-centuries. The first was a deftly paced knock that hurt India late in the league match; the second was a stubborn (if fortunate) stay that threatened India’s hold on the final. In both, Chamara Kapugedera featured as a side-act.

“The middle order has just started clicking,” said Sangakkara, reviewing the tournament. “At the end of the day every single batsman must be responsible for his performance. I think we have just spoken about clearer plans for everyone. We are on the right track to build from here. Thilina and Chamara showed some guts and character in the final. They showed if you are willing to do the difficult things, to play out of your comfort zone, you can achieve a lot.”

India had an interesting tournament. The victory that temporarily placed M.S. Dhoni’s men on top of the world was followed by a crushing defeat to Sri Lanka, in which Angelo Mathews’ off-cutters under lights embarrassed India’s batsmen. “It’s one of the worst games any side can have, losing this way,” Dhoni said after the game. “You don’t get too many such games in a season. The only thing that went well is the warm-up. Hope it’s the start and the end of it. Beginning at the toss nothing went right; we just weren’t good enough in any of the departments. It isn’t easy to fix one reason, it’s a combination of so many things. In a venue like this, the toss is 60 per cent of the game, but having said that, we should have done better.”

Dhoni won the toss in the final, and Sachin Tendulkar appeared to engineer a comfortable victory. The great man’s 44th century in ODIs, which was also his fourth at the Premadasa Stadium, his eighth against Sri Lanka, and his sixth in tournament finals, was an innings befitting the occasion. He began by timing the new ball sweetly, out-manoeuvring Sangakkara and the Sri Lankan bowlers who were trying to trap him on the drive. Then, as the ball softened, he placed it where the fielders weren’t and earned his runs the hard way. “The conditions were very tough. It was hot and humid, it was draining,” said Tendulkar. “We had to fight both the Sri Lankan team and the conditions. Physically it isn’t easy playing three games in four days, and to score runs you have to run, you have to be out there for over 40 overs. I would definitely rate this century as one of the best.”

Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh turned in half-centuries, but Sri Lanka, thanks to a blistering start, stayed with the run-rate. India’s fielding nearly cost it. But, as they often have in crunch situations over the last two years, India’s cricketers found a way.

Suresh Raina contributed a crucial spell in the context of the game — the sort of effort that often goes unnoticed. Harbhajan Singh, who had bowled exceptionally in defeat in the previous game, dismissed the dangerous Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kandamby in his five-wicket haul. Tendulkar, who had watched the Sri Lankan innings from the dressing room after suffering from cramps, said the current side was one of the best Indian teams he had been part of. “We had good players earlier also, but we have more match-winners now,” he said.

“These are extremely talented guys with bat and ball. And they have delivered at the crunch. They are match-winners, that’s what this team is about. There will be the odd hiccup when things don’t go our way. But this is definitely one of the best teams I’ve been part of.”

THE SCORES

Match 1, Colombo, September 8, 2009. Sri Lanka 216 for 7 (T. Samaraweera 104, A. Mathews 51, S. Bond three for 43) beat New Zealand 119 (G. Elliott 41, L. Malinga four for 28).

Match 2, Colombo, September 11, 2009. New Zealand 155 (A. Nehra three for 24, Yuvraj Singh three for 31) lost to India 156 for four (S. Tendulkar 46, S. Raina 45 not out).

Match 3, Colombo, September 12, 2009. Sri Lanka 307 for six (S. Jayasuriya 98, T. Kandamby 91 not out) beat India 168 (R. Dravid 47, A. Mathews six for 20).

Final, Colombo, September 14, 2009. India won by 46 runs.

India: Rahul Dravid c Dilshan b Jayasuriya 39; Sachin Tendulkar lbw b Mendis 138; M. S. Dhoni c Kandamby b Malinga 56; Yuvraj Singh (not out) 56; Yusuf Pathan c Kapugedera b Thushara 0; Suresh Raina c Kulasekara b Thushara 8; Virat Kohli (not out) 2; Extras: (b-1, w-18, nb-1) 20. Total (for five wickets in 50 overs) 319.

Fall of wickets: 1-95, 2-205, 3-276, 4-277, 5-302.

Sri Lanka bowling: Nuwan Kulasekara 8-0-38-0; Thilan Thushara 10-0-71-2; Lasith Malinga 10-0-81-1; Ajantha Mendis 10-0-70-1; Sanath Jayasuriya 9-0-43-1; Angelo Mathews 3-0-15-0.

Sri Lanka: Tillekaratne Dilshan b Harbhajan Singh 42; Sanath Jayasuriya c Nehra b Pathan 36; Mahela Jayawardene c & b Harbhajan Singh 1; Kumar Sangakkara hit wicket b R. P. Singh 33; Thilan Thushara b Sharma 15; Angelo Mathews c Raina b Yuvraj Singh 14; Thilina Kandamby b Harbhajan Singh 66; Chamara Kapugedera c Dhoni b Raina 35; Nuwan Kulasekara (not out) 9; Lasith Malinga c & b Harbhajan Singh 0; Ajantha Mendis st Dhoni b Harbhajan Singh 7; Extras (lb-3, w-11, nb-1) 15. Total (in 46.4 overs) 273.

Fall of wickets: 1-64, 2-76, 3-85, 4-108, 5-131, 6-182, 7-252, 8-264, 9-264.

India bowling: Ashish Nehra 7-0-43-0; Ishant Sharma 7-0-51-1; R.P. Singh 5-0-34-1; Harbhajan Singh 9.4-0-56-5; Yusuf Pathan 4-0-36-1; Yuvraj Singh 6-0-24-1; Suresh Raina 8-0-26-1.



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