Well begun is half the work done, goes the old saying and India did not just begin well but splendidly and carried on the good work right throughout the day to earn a thumping win over the Sri Lankans. The win was psychologically important as the Lankans had won the previous four encounters between the two teams and another win in Nagpur would have demoralized the Indian team. Everything clicked for the Indian team right from Dravid winning the toss to Tendulkar’s comeback.
The skipper himself played a blistering innings and in the company of Dhoni gave the team the much-needed momentum to take the total to 350 which was going to take some getting. Even the Australians in their current form would have struggled to chase 350 and of course don’t forget this pitch was way different from the one the Aussies got for the crucial Test exactly a year ago. Not just Harbhajan and Kartik, the two regular spinners, but even Sehwag was able to turn the ball on the surface. Sehwag was the one who got the important wicket of Kumar Sangakarra with a ball that seemed to stop and turn, forcing the left-hander to hit a simple return catch.
The Lankans never really got going and with wickets falling at regular intervals were never in the hunt at all. They needed a big innings from Sanath Jayasuriya to give them the flying start that a team needs in chasing a target with an asking run-rate of seven an over. That did not materialize because of some great moves by Dravid. He was not going to be a stereotype skipper giving the opening bowlers five overs each, then making the change with another set of five or six overs to the next pair of bowlers. Instead, he showed he was prepared to do the unexpected by bringing Harbhajan on, followed by Sehwag and even after Sehwag got Sangakarra, Dravid quickly brought in the left-arm spin of Murali Kartik to keep his foot on the Sri Lankans and not allow them to get up.
Earlier it was good to see the little champion play a long innings and with it shows that there are no ill effects after the surgery. The one shot that was significant was the flick to mid-wicket because that is the one that puts the maximum strain on the left forearm and elbow. There was the same smoothness in the shot and the same power as before he suffered the injury and that is a huge relief as far as Indian cricket is concerned.
Tendulkar’s presence in the team makes a major difference and it was clear as daylight in this game as the body language of the team displayed. Harbhajan bowled superbly and got the dangerous Jayasuriya out. He was famously described, not too long ago, as a ‘cancer’ of Indian cricket along with Ganguly, Zaheer and Nehra and while Zaheer and Nehra have been surgically removed from the team, Bhajji’s performance means that surgery on him will have to wait.
Venugopal Rao’s inclusion was baffling for if Agarkar and Yadav can be sent ahead of him and he is then substituted within ten overs of the Sri Lankan innings, then why pick him in the side? Maybe he was kept behind so that if he failed then it would make it easier for Ganguly to come back in the side. Apart from that the Indian performance was most satisfying. Hopefully the momentum will be maintained and not relaxed for if anything, India has a tendency to get complacent very soon.
They should look at the way the Aussies never loosened the grip on the ICC World Team in the recent Super Series and beat them in every game comprehensively.