The final suspects

April 13, 2014

The final suspects

It took Sri Lanka 18 years to win a world crown again and after their fifth attempt in a final since 1996. The fireworks may have come sporadically in their chase but there was not a blink between the hollering, noise and cracker sounds in all parts of the tiny island back home.

They may have missed the perfect moment in 2012 to win the cup at home for the first time. The closest they had come to winning in their backyard was in sharing the 2002 Champions Trophy with India following a rain-affected final in Colombo. But then no country except India has ever won any sort of cricket world cup or Champions Trophy on home soil. And that only happened three years ago.

But at least they once again have won a cup in the proximity of their region, both in 1996 in Lahore (when they also beat India in the semi-final) and now in 2014 when they again had to overcome the Indians to win their next crown.

Surely no team has deserved it more. Magical moment for them as two legends would have retired with possibly no world cup trophy against their name; winning on Australian tracks next year seems unlikely with teams on both sides of the Tasman Sea coming up with potent combinations at just the right time. Sad neither country made it to the last four here but they came nearer than most.

But what of the final? It was not much different to the 2011 World Cup, only the roles were reversed. Sri Lanka had then batted first with a strange selection of four players lacking exposure and form and dropping someone like Ajantha Mendis. The skipper at the time, Kumar Sangakkara, then allowed singles at will to India when Sri Lanka fielded to defend a reasonable total made possible by Jayewardene’s hundred.

It was enough to make Muralitharan throw a tantrum afterwards and ask for an explanation; the selection committee resigned over the team management playing rookies in the final.

Fast forward to Dhaka last week. India bat first and struggle to score at a fast pace on a good pitch. They bat down to Ashwin but are careful for some odd reason. Kohli gives two opportunities and makes hay otherwise. In the meantime Yuvraj, who had played the innings of his life in the 2007 World Twenty20 hitting six sixes in one over from Stuart Broad in a 12-ball fifty, now plays literally for his life. Surprised? Of course not! The man has been swatting flies outside the off stump most of this tournament.

Rewind to the 2011 World Cup final. Yuvraj had batted sensationally and consistently in the tournament, much like Kohli did in this one. Yet, in the final, Dhoni had walked out himself ahead of Yuvi because, as he was to say later, he wanted to take responsibility. He had said later it was probably the toughest decision of his life, promoting himself, and that he would have been branded a villain and self server had he messed up the chase even for Yuvraj later.

So, he holds back a man in great form in 2011 to help him avoid the pressure. But the same man sends in the same Yuvi when he is pathetically out of form, in a final where India is gasping to put up a defendable total. Left-hander the reason? Well Kohli, Rohit and Rahane had succeeded in taming bowling attacks without needing to make them readjust their field, line and length after every single. And hey, Suresh Raina was there, having shown himself to be in superb touch against South Africa a couple of days earlier.

And ‘true to form’ and expectations Yuvi played the boy on the burning deck; the case having been made for him in earlier matches, especially against West Indies. And a light hearted 50-plus against a demoralised and out of contention Australia to justify sending him up at 4.

Look, Yuvraj can be woefully out of form, but common sense says that a message should have gone out to hit out and get out; none did. He had to be told to vacate the pitch. Taking singles to give Kohli the strike was not enough.

This is a twenty over game, and the final of a world cup. You need to be firing from both barrels. So the plan is for Kohli to blast twenty an over every over for the last eight overs after being given the strike once an over. It’s as ridiculous as it can get.

Also, when a world class batsman is out of form he still doesn’t grope to touch the ball outside off. Sangakkara had scored less than him and had entered the final with a batting average of less than 5! He was never in the most sublime of touches at the start of his innings but at least he was connecting, just as any batsman would. Our own Hafeez mostly managed to play the ball for dots. Even an out of form Yuvraj can’t be worse than Hafeez in getting the ball away.

Then Dhoni walks in having hardly hit a ball in anger throughout the tournament. The more fluent Raina would have allowed for a left-right combination also. Sense of responsibility? Wanting to bear the burden? Too late for that and a shrewd man like Dhoni would have known that.

So it’s the fast bowler bowling but Dhoni doesn’t stand out of his crease or advance in line to make it a full toss, play with a straight bat. Very strange; very, very strange. Wonder if Kohli knew what was going on.

Then when the so called aggressive captain set up his field he allowed for singles, especially on the leg side, knowing its six an over roundabouts to get. Even a novice skipper will know that he must attack the out-of-form batsman and not give him time to settle in. But no one cramped Sangakkara on both sides. He took singles when he couldn’t connect properly and therefore saw the ball enough to whack it when he got a chance.

At the start of the innings, Dhoni persisted with seam bowlers, whom everyone knew were ordinary, knowing the ball would get wet later rather than sooner. Mohit was hit about in the second over, but his kingpins, Mishra and Ashwin, were held back.

Dhoni captained totally out of character in the final. In fact much like Sangakkara did in the 2011 final. Yes the same man now took them home in swashbuckling style, allowed to do so by the man he had ‘obliged’ three years ago in the same manner. I wonder if anyone got mad at Dhoni in the dressing room like Murali did with Sanga?

Suspicious final, but then who’s going to pass judgment on it? The Big Three?

The final suspects