Dambulla: A superb exhibition of seam bowling led by left-arm pacer Ashish Nehra helped India end a 15-year title jinx at Asia Cup. Humbling in-form Sri Lanka by a handsome 81 runs in the final, and heralding themselves as the serious title contenders for the 2011 ODI World Cup, Dhoni`s men sent a clear message to all rivals .
India, who won the last Asia Cup in Sharjah in 1995, looked to be the team with purpose ever since they got the ball in their hands after Sri Lanka restricted them to 268, a total which was not a mammoth one considering the home team`s batting depth.
Defending 268 for victory, Indian opening bowlers, Zaheer Khan (2/36) and Praveen Kumar (1/29), made the ball talk with the new ball and gave two vital blows to the Lankan camp picking up both the openers.
But it was left-arm seamer Ashish Nehra (4/40), who wrecked the Lankan batting with three vital blows that saw Sri Lankan reeling at 51/5.
Asish Nehra gave India a solid reason to cheer as the men in blues saw the back of the best Sri Lankan batsman, Mahela Jayawardene. Nehra, bowling with a lot of fire, got one to jump from the good length spot which kissed the outside edge of the former Sri Lankan captain’s bat to go to wicketkeeper Dhoni. Jayawardene made 11 off 19 balls.
Nehra then, in the same over, came up with almost an identical ball to send back Angelo Mathews for a duck in the same fashion.
Nehra continued his superb bowling as he picked up his third wicket when he sent back Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara for 17. Sangakkara, who was holding forte at one end, finally got impatient and threw away his wicket.
Thilina Kamdamby’s tried his best to rebuild the shivering Sri Lankan innings, but his 31-run knock came to an unfortunate end as he was needlessly run-out after a misunderstanding with Kapugedera saw both the batsmen in the same end.
It was Kandamby who provided a ray hope to the Sri Lankan camp, stitching a 53-run stand with Kapugedera and helping them cross hundred from a pathetic position of 51/5.
Praveen Kumar drew the first blood for India as he removed dangerous Tillakaratne Dilshan for a duck in the very first over of the Sri Lankan innings.
Zaheer Khan gave Sri Lanka the second blow by bowling opener Upul Tharanga out for 16. Tharanga was looking in good form but one beautiful delivery from Zaheer brought his innings to an abrupt end.
Disciplined bowling by the bowlers helped Sri Lanka restrict India to a challenging 268/6 despite two good knocks from Dinesh Karthik and Rohit Sharma in the final of the Asia Cup on Thursday.
Dinesh Karthik’s innings was very crucial as he stabilized the Indian innings after Gambhir’s departure early for 15. He put on two important stands, first with Virat Kohli and second with captain MS Dhoni, which took India to a safe position. Karthik’s 84-ball knock contained nine beautiful hits to the fence.
After playing a handsome knock of 66, Dinesh Karthik, trying to hit one full toss delivery from part-timer Kandamby, was holed out at deep mid-wicket.
Just when it seemed that Karthik and Kohli would take the game away from Sri Lanka, Lasith Malinga struck for his team as he removed Virat Kohli 28. Kohli’s 34-ball knocked consisted of 4 hits to the fence.
After removing Karthik, Kandamby inflicted the most vital blow as he got the wicket of India’s best ODI batsman MS Dhoni. Dhoni, who was playing so well for his 38, was unfortunate to be caught by Kulasekara.
Lasith Malinga came to the rescue of Sri Lanka again when he sent back a dangerous looking Suresh Raina for 29. Raina, who played 31 balls during his stay at the crease, slammed 3 fours and helped India cross two-hundred run-mark.
After that India could never accelerate, and despite Rohit Sharma’s (41) gusty efforts, nothing seriously came off for India in the later overs. The lower-order batsmen, Jadeja and Harbhajan tried their best but they did not have required skills to match the guile of Malinga, who again bowled superbly in the slog overs to prevent India from taking their score past 270.
Earlier, electing to bat first, India lost Goutam Gambhir early as ran himself out for 15. Gambhir, along with Dinesh Karthik, gave India a relatively good start, forging a 38-run opening stand.
For this all-important final, India brought back off-spinner Harbhajan Singh and left-arm paceman Ashish Nehra in place of Pragyan Ojha and Ashok Dinda.
For Sri Lanka, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara and Muttiah Muralitharan were back in the team.