Friday, December 18, 2009

Dhoni Powers India to 301

After MS Dhoni had elected to bat first, Kumar Sangakkara said that on a track that looked full of runs, he'd be happy with a target of 260. At 125 for 3 after 25 overs, he had reason to feel satisfied. In the initial stages the ball did a bit, but nowhere near enough to cause concern, and India's first three wickets owed to lapses in concentration. The Sri Lankans adopted a tidier line from Rajkot and were vastly improved in the field. As the procession of brighter lights happened around him Virat Kohli got on top of the bowlers and carried the innings with his third fifty, and first in India.

When Virender Sehwag cracked the first ball of the game past point for four, visions of another run fest flickered. When he nicked a flashy cut three balls later, the healthy Nagpur crowd was silenced, and thus began an eight-over period of tidy seam bowling and mistimed shots. Angelo Mathews who took the new ball with Chanaka Welegedara bowled the first maiden of the limited-overs leg of the tour, and 11 dot balls in a row left viewers scratching their eyeballs.

But it was not a mirage, and Sri Lanka's fielders backed their tidy new-ball pair. Tendulkar was nearly run out when on seven but Mathews missed the stumps and allowed five runs. Moments later an unfortunate incident did for Gautam Gambhir, who collided with Welegedara and was caught short by a direct hit from mid-on.

A brief little contest ensued, Welegedara beating the bat repeatedly and occasionally even staring down Tendulkar. It wasn't express pace or even genuine movement, but Welegedara had an effect on Tendulkar, allowing him just 13 runs from 21 deliveries. Even when his horizontal, through-the-line shots weren't timed to perfection, the intent was evident from Tendulkar. To counter Welegedara's angle, Tendulkar hopped about his crease and looked to work the ball away to the on-side spaces. The tussle went Tendulkar's way in the ninth over when he collected two back-foot boundaries.

Kohli, coming in at No. 4, played with a calmness he has often struggled to find in his brief one-day career. He started the day with and immaculate flicks off the pads for four, and it was evident that he was in the mood for a long stay. He opened up with some pretty strokes, the best of which was a wristy straight drive off debutant Suranga Lakmal. He found the boundaries when the field was in, especially pleasing when driving off the front foot, and then settled down to nurdle the ones and occasional two effortlessly.

By now Tendulkar appeared to have got a measure of the track and settled for a combination of timing and placement, but the partnership ended in rather tame fashion. Looking to go over mid-off, Tendulkar danced down the track but was beaten in the air by an Ajantha Mendis googly to be stumped (81 for 3).

MS Dhoni edged his first ball for four and was nearly taken by a diving Welegedara at third man on 11, but settled down to help Kohli put on 44. Kohli was especially good against Lakmal, driving down the ground and pulling whenever he erred in length. At least one boundary came in each of Lakmal's first five overs, and he ended up with none for 43 from six.


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