India v Sri Lanka, World T20, final, Mirpur
Report by: Sidharth Monga
Winning world events is an ugly business. Even aspiring to win is. Ask Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. Before tonight they had reached finals four times, wanting desperately to win, and ended up with broken hearts each time. On a night that these two champion players finally got that monkey off their backs – in their last Twenty20 international match – another champion player played a poignant, cagey innings that cost his side the final. Yuvraj Singh, India’s limited-overs talisman for so long, came in at 64 for 2 in the 11th over, scored 11 off 21, denied the unstoppable Virat Kohli the strike, and that spell of play resulted in the lowest first-innings total in a World Twenty20 final and the second-lowest score for the loss of only four wickets.
Title matches consume the vanquished. This final may have put down one of the all-time limited-overs greats, but just ask Jayawardene and Sangakkara, the redemption didn’t come easy. India defended the small total admirably, preying on the Sri Lankan nerves, fielding everything down, spinning a web around the batsmen, but the two champions somehow had enough in them to take their side over the line. Under palpable pressure, against a shrewd limited-overs captain, Jayawardene settled the early nerves with a run-a-ball 24, and Sangakkara saw the chase through with an ice-cool unbeaten 52 off 35.
Big finals are a cruel business, though, and history will remember Yuvraj’s knock as much as it will Sangakkara’s. He has won India matches from nowhere on innumerable occasions, he has buried sides with his cameos, he has turned around games in 10 balls, which is why he was still part of the team in the final. MS Dhoni trusted his match-winner, and sent him in ahead of Suresh Raina and himself. Kohli, now the leading run-scorer in any World Twenty20, had just begun to put behind him a slow start against disciplined Sri Lankan bowling. He had even been dropped by opposition captain Lasith Malinga on 11. He was in a mood to make them pay.
Sri Lanka, though, kept their wits, and gave Yuvraj nothing to score off. That too after Kohli had laced the otherwise frugal Nuwan Kulasekara for six, four and six in the 16th over to make it 111 for 2. That over featured another slip in the fielding when the fielder at cow corner was lobbed after misjudging a catch. Normally you would expect teams to fall apart at these times, but Sri Lanka produced four superb overs.
In the 17th, Yuvraj faced two dots from Sachithra Senanayake, who gave him no pace or room to work with. Malinga bowled the next over, and was happy with a single to Kohli first ball. Then came a yorker outside off. The dugout began to become edgy by now. They badly needed Yuvraj to come off now, and make up for the 9 off 17 he had made till now. You can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like being Kohli there, the best batsman of the tournament, but now without the strike to make the difference. When Kohli got the strike fourth ball, Malinga again produced a low wide one that he couldn’t get under, and went on to bowl another dot to Yuvraj before the over ended. That dot was a yorker wide outside off, which went past and very near Yuvraj’s outside edge, and that Sangakkara didn’t appeal loudly for it said all you needed to know about Yuvraj’s innings.
When Yuvraj finally hit a full toss down the throat of long-off, Darren Sammy tweeted, “Not sure this catch needed to be taken.” You felt for the batsman who would once have put these in the stands blindfolded and with one arm tied behind his back. This time, though, Sri Lanka’s plan had come off, bowling full and wide, just inside the tram lines, stifling India. Kohli and Dhoni tried their best, but were second-best to the execution by Malinga and Kulasekara. Kohli faced only eight balls in the last four overs. Only 19 came off them, and if this had not been a final and if this had not been Sri Lanka, it was game over right there.
Sri Lanka, though, were entering unchartered territory. The fear of winning does strange things. They looked for the easy route. Kusal Perera tried to smash everything, smashed one out of the first six, and went out to the seventh. Jayawardene brought sanity to proceedings with a tickle here, a nudge there, and with the required run-rate in grasp it began to become a stroll, until R Ashwin, the bowler of the tournament, produced a top edge from Tillakaratne Dilshan, which was caught excellently by Kohli at the square-leg boundary. Two men who didn’t deserve to be on the losing side were keeping India alive.
Jayawardene and Sangakkara then added a run-a-ball 24. Jayawardene began to toy around with the fields. Cricket lovers all around the world now began to dream of a fairy-tale finish. What could be better than these two stalwarts, much like Arjuna and Aravinda 18 years ago, being there in the end? This, though, would take more sweat and tears yet. Jayawardene toe-ended a sweep off part-timer Suresh Raina, and Ashwin produced a diving catch at midwicket. Soon Dhoni took a sensational low catch to send Lahiru Thirimanne back. Dhoni’s team had never lost a world final; it was now sensing the kill at 78 for 4 in the 13th over.
This was tense stuff. Wouldn’t the dugout have revisited that familiar sick feeling of coming so close and finishing second-best? They tried the desperate now. Not having the emotional strength left to take this to the deep bitter end, they sent in the big hitter Thisara Perera ahead of Angelo Mathews. They were banking on the fact that India would soon have to bowl spinners that would bring the ball in to the left-hand batsmen.
Sangakkara had been going smoothly at one end, but it was the other end that was causing the trouble. The risk was taken. You couldn’t change it even if you wanted to, with Perera scoring just two off the first six, and with 47 still required off the last six overs. This was the moment, though. Mishra, two overs for four runs till now, was bowling to two left-hand batsmen. The first ball Perera got from Mishra, he shimmied down a touch and let out an almighty swing. As it flew into the night sky and over long-on, relief came back into the camp. The cool Sangakkara then guided Mishra past fine leg, and this was now turning Sri Lanka’s way.
In the next over, Sangakkara played probably the shot of the match. India had relied on Ashwin’s accuracy through the day and had got themselves an extra fielder by not placing a fine-leg at all. This time, though, Sangakkara moved inside the line of one, took it in front of middle, and closed the face at the exact moment to tickle it through that fine-leg gap for four. Now some luck appeared too with edges landing safely in the home stretch. You couldn’t fault Sangakkara for wondering where the hell this luck had been when Gilchrist, Gambhir, Afridi and Samuels had broken his heart. This night, though, was for him to rejoice. All those defeats will hurt a little less now.