Over 28, delivery No. 4. Lasith Malinga, the once-exclusive dealer in yorker, fires his most trusted weapon at Virat Kohli. The Indian skipper digs it out with consummate ease and implicit confidence, sucks life out of the ball with his bat like a cat would with its paws out of a mouse, gathers the lifeless leather and toss it back to the bowler.
A smile breaks out on Malinga’s face, the smile of the vanquished, and Kohli responds with a smile, the smile of the benign conqueror.
A screenshot of the scoreboard of the Sunday’s one-day match would sum up the story of ruthless Indian domination but if I were to pick an image to punctuate the proceedings I would happily toss out the mass and muscle in Shikhar Dhawan’s lusty hits which stood at an impressive 23 (20 fours and three sixes) for the craft, grace and surrender lurked in the seemingly simple 28th over drama involving a legend who has grown old and fading out and a legend standing up and delivering.
India’s nine-wicket win that came inside 29 overs, with more than 21 overs to spare, was illustrated by another picture, this time post match. While trying to explain Sri Lanka’s collapse from 139 for one in the 25th over to 216 all out — nine wickets for the addition of 77 runs — captain Upul Tharanga fumbled for words to recollect and recount the disaster and make sense out of it: what you got to watch was a series of shrugs, one beginning before the other ending.
Sri Lanka’s interim coach Nick Pothas was upbeat about the gifted guys at his command and was positive about delivering quick results.
But the cooks in the system who, in his words, are “too many” at the moment should let him and the support staff give the boys “a little bit of time, a little bit of love, a little bit of care” to build up that confidence.
Is the road to recovery for the hosts so simple?
One would like to believe so for the simple reason that it’s just the beginning of the limited-overs series and that there are five more to follow.
That’s ample time to watch how Kedar Jadhav and KL Rahul are going to keep their middle-order berths in a three-way battle with Manish Pandey and what MS Dhoni is really up to: a descent farewell in the forthcoming home series against Australia or an infamous exit with below-par performances?
That brings the age factor into focus. Apart from Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Dhawan are two big guns who have crossed the 30-year mark. While Dhawan, at 32, looks fit as a fiddle, Sharma, at 30, seems lagging. Dhawan has been in good form ever since his comeback in the Champions Trophy, and his personal scores reflect the mass appeal.
Obviously, the lefty has put on a few more inches of well-toned flesh on his biceps. His new attitude, rather a return to his debut demeanour, has impressed skipper Kohli and his fans.
Dhawan seems to have ditched the boring waiting game he had been trying to play for some time in his in-and-out career. Look at the way he progressed from 88 to 100 on Sunday: in just three scoring shots off five balls. The first was a straight drive, and he was in the nineties, then two dot balls, and before the thought that the nervous nineties would slow him down crossed our minds he was right there, with two more boundaries off successive deliveries. That was Shikhar born-again Dhawan.
Sharma, on the other hand, is looking more vulnerable than before and is plagued by injuries. Rested for the West Indies tour that followed the Champions Trophy, he was back in the Test team for the series in Sri Lanka but sat out of the playing eleven to make way for Hardik Pandya.
Sunday’s was the first game he got to play after a long time and the way he got out tells a bit about how things are with him. It was unacceptable that, after 10 years of playing international cricket, he would turn away to look at the fielder while trying to take a quick single, lose his balance and focus, lose the grip on his bat and end up inside the crease but with the entire body hanging delicately in mid air.
The Indian bowlers looked ineffective in the first half of the Sri Lankan innings as the hosts put on 139 runs for the loss of just one wicket inside 24.2 overs and were on course for a 300-plus total. It was inexperience and poor shot selection on the part of the Sri Lankan batsmen rather than any instant acts of brilliance conjured up by the Indians that reduced the hosts to 187 for eight at the end of the 39th over, raising doubts if the home team would actually cross even the 200-mark.
Obviously and expectedly, the Indians have set the pace in the limited-over series as well. Tharanga and his boys seem to have hit rock bottom but, from where they are at the moment, they have just one way to go, and that’s up.
Interest, or otherwise, in the remaining four ODI matches and one-off T20 game depends on how the hosts would do it. And, in the event the Sri Lankans failing to do that, on how the Indians up the ante against imaginary challenges.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman