Having lost four finals in the last seven years, Sri Lanka finally broke the jinx in some style in the final of the ICC World Twenty20 2014, overwhelming hitherto unbeaten India by six wickets on Sunday (April 6) night.
The scenes of unrestrained joy with the entire team tumbling on to the field once Thisara Perera had lashed R Ashwin over his head for the winning boundary showed just how the finals losses had hurt the Sri Lankans, and how desperate the team was for the sweet taste of success for the first time since it jointly won the Champions Trophy with India in 2002.
In a low-scoring final that seldom flirted with the gripping, Sri Lanka was every bit the superior side, restricting a lacklustre India, Virat Kohli excepted, to 130 for 4, then hunting the target down by reaching 132 for 4 with 13 deliveries to spare.
Kohli had held the Indian innings together after Lasith Malinga had won an important toss, but his best wasn’t enough. India’s batting travails apart from Kohli were best illustrated by Yuvraj Singh, who, perhaps in his last international innings, made a painstaking, painful and at times heart-wrenching 11 off 21 deliveries, this at a stage when the need of the hour was immediate acceleration.
The target of 131 ought not have tested Sri Lanka too much, and in the end it didn’t, as Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena left the T20 International scene with, at last, winners’ medals around their necks, but there were a few mid-innings hiccups that were only settled once Thisara, drafted in for Seekkuge Prasanna, lashed out at Amit Mishra’s leg-spin.
Thisara was unbeaten on 21 but it was Sangakkara who was the real star. Batting well below his lofty standards until this game, Sri Lanka’s former skipper took it upon himself to take his team through to the Promised Land, his unbeaten 52 off 35 and a decisive stand of 54 in just 32 balls with Thisara turbo-charging Sri Lanka to its tryst with history.
There was no grand ICC treble for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s India, but India will be the first to admit that given the kind of cricket it played on this night, when play began 40 minutes behind schedule due to mild showers, it didn’t deserve to be champion. India needed to strike early, and repeatedly, if it was to give itself a chance. Mohit Sharma did account for Kusal Perera in the second over, but there were handy partnerships throughout the innings. India sensed an opening at 78 for 4 – even though only a manageable 53 were needed from 45 – but Sangakkara and Thisara shut the door in its face by latching on to Mishra and hastening the end.
That not even Kohli could find worthwhile timing for the first half of his innings amply illustrated not just the lack of pace off the surface but also the discipline of the Sri Lankan bowlers. There was not a single weak link – Malinga didn’t have to look beyond his five specialists – long before Yuvraj’s unending and unedifying travails, India had struggled to get any momentum.
Nuwan Kulasekara and Angelo Mathews set the tone with bright starts, forcing Ajinkya Rahane to venture into fatal adventurism. That united Kohli, easily the batsman of the tournament, with Rohit Sharma; the pair had already realised two century stands but if there was a time when they needed to fire in tandem, it was now.
Kohli began with a wonderfully wristy on-drive off Kulasekara to suggest we were in for another treat but, increasingly, he began to be defeated by the slowness of the track. On Friday, while making an unbeaten 72 against South Africa, he had played out just three scoreless deliveries out of the 44 faced; here, four of the first six were dot balls, but to his credit, Kohli didn’t allow frustration to get the better of him.
At the other end, Rohit alternated between defence and the odd attacking stroke. The scoreboard wasn’t exactly rattling along, but with wickets in hand, India had a decent launch pad when Rohit drove Sachithra Senanayake against the turn to cover after a stand of 60 off 54.
Yuvraj had shown promising signs against Australia, but this is one innings he will never be able to live down. Kohli, slowly shedding his inhibitions and setting himself up for the long haul, went on the attack even as Yuvraj played himself in – as it seemed then.
Long before Rohit’s dismissal, Kohli had been thrown a lifeline when Malinga at mid-wicket let slip a reasonably straightforward overhead catch as the batsman pulled Rangana Herath’s first ball. Then just 11 off 17 deliveries out of a total of 31, Kohli celebrated the let-off with a sweet off-drive that sailed over the long-off fence in the same over, then launched Mathews over mid-wicket to ensure that despite being well below his fluent best, he was still scoring at least at a run a ball.
Yuvraj was another matter altogether. It is hard to imagine a more laboured innings from him, or any other batsman, in a match as significant as this, and particularly in a situation where the need of the hour was intent. It wasn’t just 11 off 21 deliveries that was damning. Yuvraj didn’t so much as look to strike the ball, tied down in knots by all bowlers, and particularly Senanayake.
Yuvraj scored just four runs from ten deliveries from the offie, undoing all the good work at the other end from Kohli. Having set himself up for the final assault with a four and a six off a single Herath over, Kohli reached his fourth fifty of the tournament in 43 deliveries, a tribute to his focus and a wonderful lesson in putting mind over matter.
India had gone into the last five overs at 94 for 2, not ideal but reasonable enough to make a final push on a surface where 150 would have been competitive. Kohli lay into Kulasekara in the next over, drilling him over long-on for six, producing the most perfect cover-drive off the next ball and playing a powerful pull that landed over mid-wicket’s head but inside the rope. In all, 16 came off the 16th over, and 150 didn’t seem all that impossible.
That’s when the wheels totally came off. In the last four overs, Kohli – then 70 off 50 – faced just eight deliveries. India didn’t strike a boundary, Yuvraj prodded and poked and looked so totally out of sorts that it was hard to believe that this was the same man who had pulverised attacks in limited-overs cricket. Frustration levels were rising in the dugout with Dhoni and Suresh Raina padded up and waiting their turn; Kohli was getting irked at not getting the bowling when he seemed to have its measure. When Yuvraj finally fell with 11 deliveries remaining, there was relief all around but by then, the damage had been done: only 19 in the last four overs, but more importantly, a completely deflated Indian camp. It was as good as game over then. Sangakkara merely, fittingly, applied the finishing touches and collected the Man of the Match award for his efforts.
(Courtesy: International Cricket Council)