By Madan Mohan
TV commentator Alan Wilkins nearly had an awkward moment on air during the One-Day International (ODI) played at Perthbetween Australia and Sri Lanka on Friday. With 12 overs to go in the match and Sri Lanka in the throes of a batting collapse, he had made up his mind that Sri Lanka would certainly lose the match. Former Australian cricketer Tom Moody cautioned that it wasn’t over yet. And indeed it wasn’t. Wilkins was barely spared the blushes as Australia prevailed by five runs in a thriller.
You couldn’t really blame Wilkins, though; the match did look well and truly lost for Sri Lanka. In spite of putting up a modest total and missing promising pace bowlers Pat Cummins and James Pattinson, Australian skipper Michael Clarke looked in total command of the situation. Every bowling change he effected seemed to bring about a wicket. But Angelo Matthews had other ideas and his 64 very nearly turned the tables on Australia.
Disciplined bowling effort
Talk will centre on his valiant knock when this result is dissected, but Sri Lanka gave themselves a chance with a disciplined performance from their bowling unit. Nuwan Kulasekara, the underrated left-arm seamer, was the surprise package, conceding only 39 runs from 10 overs and dismissing Matthew Wade and Mike Hussey. Off-spinner Sachithra Senanayake, playing only his third match, also impressed with tidy returns of two for 45 from 10 overs. Sri Lanka’s bowling has been weakened by the fading away of Chaminda Vaas and the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan in 2011, but on Friday, they restricted the mighty Aussies to 231 with a tight display.
Defiance in the face of crisis
Speaking of retirements, Sri Lankan cricket has been badly hit by crises on and off the field over the last year or so. The financial woes of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board meant their players had to go several months without pay. There has not been much stability as far as the squad is concerned, either. Tilakaratne Dilshan’s reign as captain was extremely short lived and the hot seat has been vacated once again for Mahela Jayawardene. Geoff Marsh’s tenure as the coach was brought to an abrupt end after their South African debacle, with Graham Ford replacing him.
The Sri Lankan team stepped into this series with new leadership and a string of losses home and away behind them. In spite of such unfavourable circumstances, they dragged their contest with Australia down to the wire through a 46-run last-wicket partnership.
Lessons for Team India
And it is this defiance that Team India should look to channel in their performances down under. Suresh Raina made a positive statement in the run-up to the series, insisting this was a different squad and that new faces would invigorate the team. But this attitude needs to be reflected in their execution as well. They should take heart from their, albeit stuttering, victory over Sri Lanka earlier in the series. If Sri Lanka, a team they have beaten, could push Australia so hard, India must believe they can.
Seek positives for inspiration
Perhaps, talk of seeking positives might sound desperately unconvincing given the team’s recent form but until they believe they can, they will not reverse the tide. At the presentation for Friday’s match, captain Michael Clarke was cautious and refused to get carried away by the Australian victory. He noted that India and Sri Lanka were the finalists of the last World Cup and Australia would need to play better to beat both teams consistently in a long tri-series.
Clarke knew his team had been pushed, that he could have just as easily finished on the losing side. It is up to Team India to defy their recent form and pundits who are already drafting their obituaries and push Australia. Sri Lanka have shown them it can be done, in the face of greater adversity.
(Madan Mohan is a 26-year old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was eight and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)