July 25, 2012 1:14:31 am
When the third over of the day culminated,Mahela Jayawardene collected the dusty white cricket ball and sighed. Thirty-one runs had been scored so far,and Lasith Malinga Lankas premier fast man who was thrashed for 83 runs in the first one-dayer continued to look a shadow of himself. How the Sri Lankan captain must have wished that Nuwan Kulasekara hadnt torn his groin for a catch that hadnt been given on Saturday.
At that point,Jayawardene had to choose between two options. One,continue bowling with Kulasekaras debutant replacement,the young and inexperienced Isuru Udana,or turn to his all-rounders. He chose to go with the double change of Thisara Perera and Angelo Mathews,and his bits and pieces men made the remainder of his choices extremely simple.
In the terribly breezy and swinging conditions present on Tuesday in the port city of Hambantota,the poor display of SLs fast men could not have come at a better time; in fact,in the scheme of things,it was the ultimate blessing in disguise. For once the non-threateningly paced Perera had his hands around the ball a lot earlier than he would have expected to,the hosts finally began treating the Indians as uninvited guests. Pereras movement dismissed the non-moving entities of Virender Sehwag,Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina the three toppers from Saturday as his first three overs decapitated the Indian top-order.
From the other side,the powerfully built Mathews didnt bend his back,but rather gently released the ball into the turbulence and let the conditions do the rest striking with middle-order gold in Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni.
By the time Mathews dismissed Pragyan Ojha,reducing India to 132 for nine,the Sri Lankan openers had begun preparing physically for their early stint in the middle. The preparations came in handy as Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga helped themselves to half-centuries as Lanka cantered to an easy nine-wicket win. The win,however,belonged almost solely to the expertise of two boys who have plied their trade together since their years in St Josephs College,Colombo.
For a tall man,the 61 Perera does not really use his height to extract bounce. Also,the 23-year old doesnt do much credit to his tag of being a medium-fast bowler. With an average bowling speed of 125 kmph,the suffix hardly does him justice. But where Perera excels,only a few other wily bowlers can. Few in world cricket adapt to conditions better than this innocuous man. And on Tuesday,he made the most of what experts were comparing with the howling winds of Wellington. Just ask Sehwag.
With the last ball of his first over,the fourth of the innings,Perera let the leather drift a fraction longer in the air. Sehwag swiped at it with no foot movement,only to watch the ball lob back towards the bowler. Perera leapt to his right and plucked it out to send the first Indian back to the hut.
If the Sehwag wicket was big,then Kohlis was monumental. Perera slipped one wide and loose,and Kohli looked to attack it without getting to the pitch of the ball. He edged it,Kumar Sangakkara caught it and the man with four hundreds in five was gone for one.
With figures of 2-2-0-2,Perera returned. But all Raina could manage was repeat Rohits mistake from the previous Mathews over. To a full ball,a cemented Raina tried driving through the off-side,but only dragged it on to his own stumps. And if Mathews hadnt dropped a sitter at first slip next ball,Dhoni would have been dismissed for a golden duck and Perera would have had figures of 3-3-0-4. He had to settle for one less in the wickets column.
In the past,Team India have been criticised with struggling at leaving balls outside their off-stump and for their incapacity to enforce a rearguard act. On Tuesday,despite Gautam Gambhir occupying one end of the pitch,neither happened. Mathews broke their spine,before Malinga returned to a semblance of form by dismissing Irfan Pathan and Gambhir the second of which ended Indias innings.
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