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
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.