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Compaq Cup Final – India vs Sri Lanka: Tendulkar, Harbhajan Seal Title Win In A Thriller

By on September 14, 2009

Compaq Cup Final - Sachin Tendulkar50 overs India 319 for 5 (Tendulkar 138, Yuvraj 56*, Dhoni 56) beat Sri Lanka 272 (Kandamby 66, Harbhajan 5-57) by 46 runs…

The ghost of the R Premadasa lights was almost slain tonight. Sachin Tendulkar’s master class, not far off his best, his 86th international century, almost became a footnote on a night of punches and counter-punches. Sri Lanka knew being ultra aggressive was the only way of going about this huge chase, and they counterattacked every time a wicket fell. Thilina Kandamby, batting at No. 7, fell just short of pulling off a heist against India for the second time in his short career, as the early wickets left him with too much to do.

Don’t go by the 46-run margin, Indian fielders and pace bowlers were rattled during the frenetic chase. It was their spinners, Harbhajan Singh, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh, who saved them the embarrassment. They took critical wickets at critical points, Raina’s dismissal off Chamara Kapugedera in the 43rd over, with 68 runs and the batting Powerplay to go, proving to be the decisive blow. A pumped-up Harbhajan then finished off what he started, taking out the last three in a hurry: he had earlier taken two wickets in the eighth and 10th over of the innings to rein in an explosive start to the chase.

An explosive start from Tillakaratne Dilshan and Sanath Jayasuriya promised a classic finish to the final, but a pumped-up Harbhajan Singh made immediate impact and punctured Sri Lanka’s hopes of completing an improbable chase. There was no way Sri Lanka were going to get close to the target by playing Sachin Tendulkar-like, risk-free cricket and both the openers were prepared to take their chances. Sri Lanka never really lifted their foot off the pedal in what was a frenetic first half of the chase, and required just over six an over at halfway stage but had lost five wickets.

Dilshan and Jayasuriya got stuck into the fast bowlers, cutting, flicking and scooping with ease. MS Dhoni had to call upon Harbhajan as early as the eighth over, with 60 runs already up and the pace bowlers not remotely looking like forcing a breakthrough. Harbhajan’s first over was a masterpiece. With a slip and leg slip in place, and a strong on-side field, he invited Dilshan to take the risk and hit through the off side. Dilshan took the bait – he didn’t have many choices – got one boundary through cover, and was bowled the next ball.

In his next over, Harbhajan got Mahela Jayawardene with a doosra, and India were on all-out attack. Jayasuriya, looking to counterattack and scatter the field, holed out to mid-on, and it seemed India would run through the batting order. Kumar Sangakkara pulled out a surprise by promoting Thilan Thushara to pinch-hit, which he did by scoring three lofted boundaries in no time. Dhoni, however, brought Ishant Sharma into the attack and he pegged the middle stump back. Out came Angleo Mathews and he hit Ishant for a six in the same over.

Another counterattack was on, but Dhoni was not making things easy. Yuvraj Singh became the fourth bowler in the innings to take a wicket in the first over of a new spell, getting Mathews with one that stopped a touch. Sangakkara and Thilina Kandamby then eased out on the attack a bit, with the captain clearly playing the guiding role. At the half-way mark, the two had added 37 off 45 balls. Dhoni would have put it across Sri Lanka had he not missed Sangakkara’s stumping in the 25th over.

Sachin Tendulkar rolled back the years, and then some more. He stroked, ran and yearned for runs like it was the 1990s but, unlike those days, he didn’t need to take any chances or risks on the way to his 86th international century. By the time Tendulkar was done, he had given India a strong chance of ending a run of five straight defeats in completed tournament finals to Sri Lanka.

This was Tendulkar’s ninth international century since May 2007, to go with seven scores in the 90s. Judging by this form, 100 international hundreds have become a distinct possibility. Today admittedly he was helped by MS Dhoni winning the toss at one of the worst ODI venues, in terms of the toss influencing the result of the match. But what followed the toss was an absolute master class. A measure of the bowlers’ helplessness lay in the fact that the first time he hit a ball in the air was to reach his fifty, that too off a free hit. With Tendulkar batting the way he was, who needed aerial shots?

He shared valuable partnerships with Rahul Dravid, Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh, though the especially crucial one was the stand with Dravid. Tendulkar and Dravid, 73 years and 762 ODI caps (before this match) between them, took charge of what has looked a shaky batting line-up: their 95-run opening stand took them to No. 6 on the all-time partnership aggregates in ODIs.

Tendulkar you simply couldn’t take your eye off. Albeit on a flat track, Tendulkar and Dravid were prepared to work hard in sapping conditions, their shirts turning to dark blue with sweat even before the shine went off the white ball.

After Dravid got India going with a boundary off the second ball of the innings, it was all Tendulkar and his classy shots. Nuwan Kulasekera and Thilan Thushara didn’t serve up loose half-volleys or long hops; Tendulkar had to work for every forceful shot. The first ball he faced he punched sweetly off his toes, wide of mid-off for three. In the fourth over, he took a similar delivery and wristed it wide of mid-on for three. We were on to something.

A string of lovely boundaries followed, the best being the punches through a tight cover ring, and the late flicks from off and middle stump to midwicket and cow corner. With Dravid being Dravid, there were hardly any chances for the bowlers; the one that came their way Tillakaratne Dilshan dropped at point. Dravid was 24 then, and India had reached 58 in the 12th over.

Lasith Malinga came on in the 14th over, and was subjected to similar treatment at once: an impeccable punch through the covers for four. With that free hit, a slice over cover, Tendulkar reached his 92nd ODI fifty, off 47 balls.

Dravid followed it up with an aerial shot of his own, reading an Ajantha Mendis googly early, and lofting him over long-on. It was not all fours and sixes, but smart placements on the non-boundary hits: only 38 of the 95-run stand came in fours and sixes.

Dhoni moved up to No. 3, and settled into the innings without wasting much time. By then Tendulkar had started taking the odd chance, stepping out, making room, and hitting Jayasuriya and Mendis over extra cover. Not all such shots brought boundaries, but the twos and threes were a main feature of the innings. During the 110-run second-wicket stand, Dhoni made Tendulkar run hard, and was returned the favour by the man eight years his senior. Never did Dhoni outscore Tendulkar, and between them the two saw off the threat the spinning track posed.

When he hit an inside-out boundary off Mendis in the 29th over, Tendulkar reached his 90s and serenely, with ones and twos, brought up the hundred. The temptation for the double century was on but after the hundred came the cramps, and when Tendulkar opted for a runner we were reminded for the first time it was in fact the year 2009.

Dravid came back to run, but Tendulkar did most of the calling. The bowlers showed no mercy, Malinga bowling a mix of bouncers and yorkers. Tendulkar’s response was to hit Mendis for a six inside-out and reverse-sweep two boundaries in three balls. When he got out in the 46th over, trying one reverse-sweep too many, he had outscored a younger and fresher Yuvraj too in a 71-run stand.

In the last four overs, Yuvraj’s big hitting got India 42 runs, taking them to 12 more than what Sri Lanka managed and defended comfortably two days ago.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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