3 April 2011

A great chase befitting World Champions

Congratulations to India who managed to take all that pressure on them and still put in a good performance in the final. And particularly to Dhoni who captained well throughout the tournament and stepped up with his batting when required. His decision to move to 5 above Yuvraj in the final - apparently made on the basis that Sri Lanka picked two (or three if you include Dilshan) off-spinners who would be more dangerous to left-handers, was inspired as it turned out.

However, there is no-one else as far as I know, who would have considered it as an option, with Dhoni's top score in the tournament being 34 and Yuvraj averaging in the 80s for the tournament coming into the final. He took a big risk and it came off, and he would have known the pressure he was under so you have to give him huge credit for that. He also took a risk playing Sreesanth (who bowled 8 overs at 6.5 without taking a wicket) - I and many others would have expected them to play Ashwin.

But it was Sri Lanka who unexpectedly weakened their team through strange selections. As an impartial observer, I'm gutted that Mathews got injured because I think the match would have been even closer, and Sri Lanka probably wouldn't have been tempted to change their team. I feel desperately sorry for Ajantha Mendis who bowled fantastically in the tournament to go at the least runs of any bowler - 3.14 - and then got left out of the final. Herath had a relatively poor tournament and you can see why the Sri Lankan's were tempted to bring in Randiv for him, putting right what many saw as a wrong in the original selection.

My man Kulasekara - who I would have brought in for Mathews - batted well, but bowled with too much width, demonstrating how hard it is to come into a match cold and play well. I also felt that he could have made a better attempt at catching Gambhir at long-off during the bowling powerplay and that could have been crucial. Perera did what we know he can do - hit the ball a long way and bowl relatively expensive medium pace. If they wanted to drop Silva and/or play Perera I think they needed to take the chance to bat Perera at 6 rather than play Kapugadera who hadn't played all tournament and has never been successful at international level.

How would a team of Tharanga, Dilshan, Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Samaraweera, Perera, Kulasekara, Randiv, Malinga, Mendis, Murali have gone in the final? We'll never know. Personally, I'd have liked them to make just one change to replace Mathews - a side builds up morale and winning momentum through a tournament and then it's partially taken away for the final - it's surely poor selection? Given what they know now, I bet Sri Lanka would have picked Randiv instead of Fernando in their squad, given the pre-eminence of spinners in the tournament.

Overall, I think both sides over-thought things. India played Sreesanth ahead of Ashwin and changed their batting order on the basis of the team Sri Lanka picked. Sri Lanka changed 4 players for the final, only one of them enforced through injury, including dropping the tournament's most economical bowler. Just play your best side irrespective of the opposition!

But Dhoni deserves to bask in glory for now. The pressure on him was immense already before he promoted himself to 5, and even greater then. And he came through, showing immense guts to do so. Congratulations to Dhoni and India, worthy World Cup winners, even if - for the moment - they're still ranked only number 2 in the world in ODIs.

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