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Zaheer, Dravid script India’s series-leveling win

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India has stayed alive in the Hero Honda Cup with a well controlled 5-wicket win in the 3rd ODI at Margao. Skipper Rahul Dravid led from the front with a responsible half century. His century stand with MS Dhoni had sealed the game in India’s favour with 21 balls to spare. This is only the second win for the hosts on this ground. Sri Lanka had posted a fighting total early on, which was enough for a repeat of the Rajkot blunders from the home team. But this time, Dravid and Dhoni ensured that India never gave the opposition any sniff to get back into the match.

The near packed Nehru Stadium buzzing with 40,000 crowd had a sporting pitch for today’s game. It didn’t offer any sideways movement nor turn but had the cracks that were making the ball to bounce invariably and sometimes to stop onto the bat. Sri Lanka having won the toss and electing to bat first were in deep trouble with Zaheer Khan bowling a fiery spell with the new ball. The first three wickets of Jayasuriya, Tharanga and Sangakkara fell with the score at just 6 on the board, all of them falling to the left armer. The experienced pair of Mahela Jayawardene and Marvan Atapattu had rightly taken the responsibility of steadying the ship, which they did quite comfortably. Zaheer had lost his way after the initial burst and was starting to leak runs. But never did the Sri Lankans could unleash the big shots in the powerplays thanks to the tidy bowling from Ajit Agarkar and Munaf Patel. The breakthrough for India came not that late with Atapattu throwing his wicket away with a casual flick shot that was taken by Tendulkar at short mid wicket to reward Munaf his first wicket. In fact, India’s catching was impressive, it had started with Sourav Ganguly taking a magnificent catch, running backwards and throwing himself back to hold onto a miscued pull from Jayasuriya.

Marvan Atapattu had departed after taking SL to 82 for 4, he wasted his start to get out at 42 which had six hits to the fence. In the very next over, Simon Taufel wrongly gave Mahela Jayawardene leg before the wicket. The Lankan Skipper was struck outside the offstump to a Harbhajan delivery ending his innings to 30. The visitors were in deep trouble at 91 for 5 and were in danger of getting bowled out. However, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Russel Arnold came to the rescue with an outstanding partnership of 89 to take their team to the slog overs. This was the second time in a row that Dilshan has come up with a good knock under pressure, he made a strokeful 42 from 54 before edging a cut shot off Harbhajan Singh.

Zaheer Khan in his last spell was very fortunate to get two wickets to get his first fifer in ODIs and obviously his career best figures, which is now 5 for 42 in 10 overs. The first wicket of Zaheer’s last spell came through a bump ball taken at mid wicket. Farveez Maharoof was the striker, who didn’t have any complaints about the dismissal and the umpires weren’t awake to the situation. The second dismissal was that of Malinga Bandara’s, who was given out lbw by the local umpire, Amiesh Saheba although Zaheer’s delivery pitched way outside the legstump. Sri Lanka were restricted to 230 for 8 with Russel Arnold unbeaten on 66 that had come in 83 balls with 7 fours. All the specialist bowlers were very economical, but the fifth bowler had hurt India. Sachin Tendulkar was erratic today and had gone for 33 in his 4 overs which had let the Lankans to get off the hook in the middle overs.

It was a big ground and the wicket would definitely go slower and lower, so the target for India wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. In the absence of Robin Uthappa, Virender Sehwag was promoted up the order to partner Ganguly. He was bounced out by a nasty lifter from Dilhara Fernando in the 2nd over. Sehwag and India had a dream start when Maharoof was taken for 13 in the first over of the innings. That over consisted of 10 deliveries with three consecutive wides to begin with. Sehwag had cracked a couple of boundaries and had got another boundary before getting out for 12. India was put into pressure when Tendulkar had dragged a backfoot punch off Nuwan Kulasekara back onto his stumps reducing the score to 35 for 2. Yuvraj Singh, playing his first game looked in prime touch with his timing and along with Ganguly made the bowling looking ordinary. Just when Yuvraj was looking for a big score, a soft dismissal brought an end to a promising 21, which had 4 boundaries. Ganguly batted extremely well today to begin with, but went into a shell once the field restrictions were removed, the one mistake from him saw his end. He failed to connect a sweep off Malinga Bandara to be adjudged lbw to the leggie after making 48 from 72.

At 94 for 4, India was in the danger of losing the series. But a determined Dravid and Dhoni battled it out to get their side back into the reckoning. An over from Nuwan Kulasekara had dramatically shifted the balance towards India as Dravid cracked three boundaries in succession. He also had gone past the 10,000 runs mark in One Day Cricket. Dravid is now the 6th player to cross that landmark and the 3rd Indian to achieve that. The bigger picture for Dravid today was to stay right till the end. And he almost did that along with Dhoni, who broke free in the last few overs. Dhoni had taken 50 balls to find his first boundary after which it was only clean, muscular hitting of the cricket ball. Dravid was unlucky not to see India to the close as he was run out backing up at the non striker’s end with his side just a boundary away. His 66 had come in 82 balls with 4 boundaries and the only six of the match, which was a straight hit over Jayasuriya, the bowler. Dinesh Karthik had the honours of hitting the winning shot while Dhoni got his batting average improve further by remaining unbeaten on 67 from 74 balls with just 4 fours. The Man of the Match award had gone to Zaheer Khan for his important spell at the start. The final ODI will be the series decider to be played on the 17th at Vizag.

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