India complete tryst with destiny

Victory over SL helps Dhonis men grab No 1 spot in ICC Test rankings

India complete tryst with destiny

Indian cricket team displays the spoils after winning the Test series against Sri Lanka in Mumbai on Sunday. AP

The demolition job lasted a mere 36 minutes on the final morning, India storming to the top of the ICC Test rankings in spectacular style at the Brabourne stadium.

The air was as abuzz with anticipation on a historic Sunday as it had been on Friday, which Virender Sehwag began 16 short of becoming the first three-time triple centurion in Tests. If it was disappointment that greeted the hordes of fans 48 hours back, then it was undiluted joy on Sunday as Zaheer Khan turbo-charged Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men to a second commanding victory in two Tests over Sri Lanka.

Before the three-Test series started, India had the tougher of the tasks as both sides eyed the top spot for the first time. A simple series win would have sufficed for Sri Lanka; India needed to win 2-0, a task accomplished with clinical professionalism and supreme confidence as South Africa were relegated to the second spot.

For Sri Lanka to deny India their tryst with destiny, they needed their skipper to bat for a majority of the final day of the Test series. As has been the trend all series long, though, there was no joy for an overnight centurion. Zaheer (5/72) fired out Sangakkara in the day’s first over, and it was fairly routine from then on as India marched to an innings and 24-run triumph with nearly an entire day to spare.

Trailing by a massive 333 and resuming on 274 for six, Sri Lanka’s resistance eventually ended at 309 when Harbhajan Singh had Muttiah Muralitharan caught behind, fittingly; the man who has masterminded India’s climb up the charts had to be the one that had the final say, Dhoni holding on to the offering gleefully to trigger wild celebrations in the middle and in the heavily populated stands.

The final morning, indeed the last two Tests, reiterated the point that there is more to India’s attack even at home than their spinners. If it was S Sreesanth who opened the door to victory in Kanpur last week, then Zaheer came into his own here after having been more down than up during the first half of his comeback series following time away recuperating from shoulder surgery.

The senior pro, in complete control of his bowling and showcasing the maturity accumulated through nearly a decade of international cricket, has been the spearhead of the Indian attack at home and away. On Saturday, during a brilliant five-over burst, he had shot out Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera to expose the Sri Lankan underbelly; on Sunday, he finished off what he had started in double quick time on his way to an eighth five-wicket haul in Test cricket.

Sangakkara (137, 349m, 261b, 20x4, 1x6) had defied India through an admixture of stubborn defence and spectacular strokeplay on the fourth evening, and he needed to extend his careful vigil to at least the final session if Sri Lanka were to escape with an unlikely draw. The odds of him pulling that off were fairly tall, given that he had only the tail for support.  Not like Rahul Dravid in Ahmedabad when he began day two on 177, or Sehwag here when he resumed day three on 284, Sangakkara was always going to find it difficult to back up his heroics of the previous day. It came as no surprise when he fell third ball, following a well-directed awayswinger from the left-arm paceman into Dhoni’s gloves.

It ended a defiant stand of 70 (74m, 108b) with Nuwan Kulasekara; more importantly, it brought an early spring to the Indian stride because fortified by the knowledge that the end was nigh, India upped their intensity a couple of notches.

Zaheer ran in hard and with tremendous purpose, while Harbhajan Singh tormented Rangana Herath with an understandably improved spell. Pragyan Ojha took a sharp catch at mid-wicket to get rid of Herath on the pull, and while Muralitharan came out swinging, Zaheer accounted for Kulasekara too by coming round the sticks and forcing an edge to second slip. Muralithran’s gung-ho approach had ‘when’ written all over it. That ‘when’ transpired at 10.06 am as his agricultural hoick ended in Dhoni’s gloves and signalled the fruitful culmination of a journey of hope and ambition.

Scoreboard

SRI LANKA (I Innings): 393 all out in 94.4 overs

INDIA (I Innings): 726/9 decl in 163.3 overs

SRI LANKA (II Innings, O/n: 11/0):

Paranavitana lbw Sreesanth     54
(179m, 144b, 8x4)
Dilshan lbw Harbhajan    16
(34m, 27b, 2x4)
Sangakkara c Dhoni b Zaheer    137
(349m, 261b, 20x4, 1x6)
M J’rdene c Dhoni b Zaheer    12
(40m, 24b, 1x4)
Samaraweera c Laxman b Zaheer    0
(19m, 13b)
Mathews c Dhoni b Ojha    5
(10m, 8b, 1x4)
P Jayawardene lbw Ojha    32
(58m, 42b, 3x4, 1x6)
Kulasekara c Laxman b Zaheer    19
(102m, 67b, 4x4)
Herath c Ojha b Zaheer    3
(15m, 10b)
M’tharan c Dhoni b Harbhajan    14
(17m, 10b, 3x4)
Welegedara (not out)    0
(5m, 1b)
Extras (B-12, LB-1, W-1, NB-3)    17
Total (all out, 100.4 overs)    309
Fall of wickets: 1-29 (Dilshan), 2-119 (Paranavitana), 3-135 (M Jayawardene), 4-137 (Samaraweera), 5-144 (Mathews), 6-208 (P Jayawardene), 7-278 (Sangakkara), 8-282 (Herath), 9-307 (Kulasekara).
Bowling: Harbhajan Singh 34.4-5-80-2, Pragyan Ojha 23-4-84-2, Zaheer 21-5-72-5 (nb-1), Sreesanth 13-4-36-1 (w-1, nb-2), Virender Sehwag 9-2-24-0.

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