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India has wiped out Sri Lanka 4-0 in the home series. All of a sudden there are questions asked about the second best ODI team in the world because they have lost four matches in a row. In a sense it was inevitable that there are calls for change from former cricketers and experts, most notably Arjuna Ranatunga.
Why this sudden fall from favour? Marvan Atapattu put on a brave face during the first couple of matches, but in the third and fourth ODI we could just feel that he had lost the plot. Except Muralitharan, none of the Sri Lankan bowlers found their comfort zone in this series. We played on some fantastic batting tracks and the nature of the Sri Lankan bowling attack has been exposed. His captaincy too has been come under heavy criticism, but I feel sorry when the captain is accused for not leading the team properly. After all, his 87 off 100 balls in Pune was probably the right tonic for his team to put up a fighting total of 261 on the board. But then, after the early breakthroughs, Sri Lanka just couldn't keep up the pressure against an Indian team already strengthened by their supersub, Suresh Raina. And in the end, that substitution was crucial - he steered India home after major hiccups in the middle order.
In analysing Sri Lanka's failure in this series, I can think of a few reasons why they haven't really performed. First of all, I think that they are not at all comfortable with the new ICC rules: the powerplay and the supersub. They haven't really found an answer to the powerplay situation - when to utilize it and when to bring on their ace card Muralitharan into the attack. On more than one occasion, Atapattu appeared all at sea while utilizing his powerplay: not knowing whether to attack or to defend. On the other hand, India has benefitted greatly because of the supersub rule. They have played their cards judiciously and made full use of the powerplay situation, both while batting and while bowling. I always felt that the new supersub rule would benefit teams like India which have more specialists than all-rounders than teams like Sri Lanka, which rely on batting all-rounders like Dilshan and bowling all-rounders like Maharoof. I think that was the case here. For a long time Indian cricket had been suffering from a lack of flexibility which an all-rounder provides. The question always was about whether to pick four bowlers and one all-rounder or five specialist bowlers in the team. The lack of a real quality all-rounder always hurt badly. The new supersub rule has really solved one aspect of the issue. The other aspect of playing an extra batsman has been solved by the presence of Dhoni for the time being. We can now pick four or five bowlers according to the situation and then supersub them out when needed. Dravid has used this effectively to India's advantage and the results were there for all to see.
Another reason why Sri Lanka has failed here is the match conditions. We play a lot of day games in this country on a variety of pitches and under different weather conditions. Early morning moisture does play a role in influencing the decision at the toss. And all the tracks have been quicker and more batting friendly this time around. Spinners haven't really been able to attack the batsmen as much as they would have liked. Compare this to Sri Lanka, where the conditions are vastly different and most matches are played on slow pitches at the Premadasa in Colombo with an odd game played at the SSC or at centres like Galle, Kandy or Dambulla. The pitches are usually slow to start off with and get slower and lower as the game progresses. Sri Lankan slow bowlers love such conditions under lights. Unfortunately for them, these Indian pitches haven't really deteriorated as the game progressed and we have had excellent batting conditions in daylight. Then again, Indian batsmen love the ball coming on to the bat and we have always prospered on tracks with true pace and bounce.
All in all, I wouldn't count Sri Lanka out yet. Atapattu sure needs a change in strategy in the last three ODIs. He has to sit down and assess the conditions as well as how to use the new ICC rules to his advantage. He has to be more aggressive while using Murali and Chaminda Vaas. It's important that Sri Lanka bag a couple of wins at least going into the test series to keep up their morale. They will be motivated by that and they need to regain some pride. They are still a strong side and even in their loss at Pune, they showed signs of resurgence. India should not rest on their laurels but try and polish off their opponents while they're still down. That will be the acid test of Dravid's captaincy - how to motivate his team to do just that now that the series is in the bag.
Picture courtesy: uk.sports.yahoo.com
Posted on Fri, Nov 4, 2005 at 11:52 IST (last updated: Sun, May 24, 2009 @ 19:22 IST)
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