September 21, 2020
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The Great Indian Huddle Trick

It didn't rain, it poured -- but not the kind the Sri Lankans would have wished -- runs from Indian top 3, first, and then Lankan wickets, as Team India strode into the Semis with a comprehensive 183 run victory.
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The Great Indian Huddle Trick
The Great Indian Huddle Trick

On ethical grounds Sri Lanka should have returned the money to spectators in Johannesburg's Wanderers on Monday but to be fair to them, Muralitharan did provide light entertainment towards the end of the match. His performance, though it couldn't stop his team's fourth successive defeat to India, was laced with gestures being made to Ashish Nehra and a unilateral decision not to take singles, to protect a batsman who came a position ahead of him.

There must have been something very pleasurable in the Sri Lankan dressing room that made five of its front line batsmen return in a hurry without bothering to score. When Atapattu, Mubarak and Jayawardene - whose World Cup average is under three runs per match - and de Silva departed for ducks, Sri Lanka was at 15 for 4 in 3.4 overs in a terrible chase of India's more elegantly constructed 292 for 6.

Captain Sanath Jayasuriya who played in this game despite news and hopes to the effect that he won't, watched the procession like a by-stander till he too, it seems, could not resist that mysterious endearment in the dressing room. Just when he was threatening to bring some respectability into the innings, he was caught by Kaif off Srinath who by then had scalped 4 wickets.

At 40 for 5, Sri Lanka needed rain to save them which was not a bad request from God going by his current form. Just the previous day at about 4 in the evening it not merely rained in Johannesburg, it poured ice cubes in a rare hailstorm. But for Sri Lanka it was only raining wickets in the Wanderers as the rest of the Sri Lankan batsmen continued the rush towards the dressing room.

Sangakkara, who was an anachronism of sorts with his 30 off 33, stood out in an otherwise perfectly miserable score chart. When he departed after hitting a Nehra delivery straight to Yuvraj, the score was 59 for 6 and the 15th over was yet to be completed.

Around the 19th over the security guards wearing fluorescent green tops crouched by the boundary ropes sensing, in an elementary analysis, that the match was over. Eventually it ended after the 23rd over was bowled.

In front of a crowd of 23000 people most of whom were Indian fans who never really complained at the no show, the Sri Lankans equalled the lowest total ever to be made in the Wanderers. In 1994/95, Pakistan too had made 109 against South Africa.

Earlier, Sachin Tendulkar and Virendra Sehwag gave an excellent impetus to the Indian innings. In the course of their 153-run partnership, Sachin broke his own record of 523 he accumulated in 1996 to reemphasise his rightful place as the highest run getter in a World Cup edition.

It will not be correct to say Sehwag returned to form. He was middling the ball well for most part of the tournament, but in this match his good sense lasted long enough to help him make 66.

As Sachin neared his 35th one day hundred, he slowed down considerably, giving a hint, not for the first in this tournament, that while on duty, he would also like to concentrate on some stray records and thereby relax his limbs too in the process. But he fell three runs short of notching the highest number of centuries in the history of the World Cup. He at present equals Mark Waugh's 4 centuries.

Sachin went for a worthless paddle sweep, edging an innocuous De Silva delivery to the keeper. As Sangakkara accepted the gift joyously, something strange happened. Sachin didn't walk till umpire Simon Taufel asked him to please leave. For a man who is known for doing all things right, Sachin seems to have joined that long list of batsmen who, it seems, will walk only if their car breaks down.

After Sachin left, captain Saurav Ganguly showed he could treat a top bowling attack -- and not just cricket's third world, like Namibia and Kenya -- with contempt.

In the end it was a comprehensive batting display though India may have found itself 10 to 20 runs short if the competition had chosen to be even. But in the post match press conference Ganguly said, "It doesn't work that way. We played well to put 292 on board".

Man of the Match Javagal Srinath dedicated his performance of 35 for 4 in 9 overs to a good friend called Hemant who died recently in Mysore.

Sanath Jayasuriya, who had won the toss, and asked India to bat, said he didn't regret his decision as much as watching his "bowlers put the balls in the whole areas".

India is now assured of a place in the semi finals. It's most likely to play in Durban. Sri Lanka still has a mathematical chance of making it if it beats Zimbabwe. India will meet New Zealand on Friday, "to win" as Ganguly says and not to settle some old scores.

Manu Joseph is currently in South Africa to cover the world cup, which is why the cryptic crossword aficionados are deprived of their weekly fix, though we are thinking of saving his SMSs to compile them into a special bonus puzzle at some point.

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