Gautam Gambhir scored a fluent century, Virat Kohli continued his form with his tenth three-figure knock, MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina hit unbeaten cameos at strike-rates of over 176, Vinay Kumar found himself on a hat-trick, Irfan Pathan grabbed four wickets, and India beat Sri Lanka by 50 runs. Smiles were back on the Indians' faces, and there was a sense of inevitably about the manner in which the defending champions played their first match of this Asia Cup. The only surprise – or not, depending on your views - was that Sachin Tendulkar failed to cash in on a friendly batting surface.
There should be little surprise in the fact that India posted 304 for 3. Back in subcontinental "home" conditions where there was no threat of sharp bounce or jagged movement, their batsmen were able to play shots they struggled to play consistently in Australia. Unlike in Australia where the ball was often coming in above the waist, in Mirpur the batsmen were able to play forward with the ball staying at knee-level. There was very little problem in batting, and Gambhir and Kohli's ploy of getting themselves well set on a pitch where they knew they could regain any lost confidence was palpable.
The odd delivery did stay low, but never enough to worry Gambhir and Kohli who repeatedly shuffled around to work the ball off their stumps, and the ease with which Raina drove off the front foot during the slog overs was perhaps the most stark example of how different this team is on such tracks.
Gambhir's 100 consisted of many dabs and steers to third man off pace and spin, a shot which in Australia had him caught behind or in the slips so often. In Mirpur, with the lack of bounce, he relied on the open-faced guide to pick up easy singles. Suddenly he looked like a million takas, after often resembling a few Australian dollars during the past two months. It is a back-handed compliment.
Gambhir and Kohli milked the Sri Lankan bowlers with confidence and comfort. In the recent CB Series, India managed just two 100-plus partnerships (in the stunning win over Sri Lanka in Hobart). Today, Gambhir and Kohli added 205 at 5.54 an over. Mahela Jayawardene deployed a strong off-side cordon throughout India's innings but the Delhi pair managed to perforate the field with some superb shots. Especially impressive were Kohli's wristy drives through the cover region, while Gambhir was able to unfurl his trademark inside-out drives and loft down the ground too. Such was the comfort level in Mirpur.
The departure of both centurions in three deliveries was followed by a rollicking unbeaten stand of 78 in 43 deliveries between Dhoni and Raina as Sri Lanka's bowling receded into shoddiness. Unlike in Australia, Raina was able to plant his front foot forward and drive with ease while Dhoni – who had a strike-rate of 67.65 over six innings during the CB Series – wasted little time in playing his helicopter shot. How Raina must wish he can bat like this wherever he goes.
With 304 on the board, victory was not assured and India needed some poor shots from the Sri Lankans to hasten a win. After Tillakaratne Dilshan's dismissal for 7 – pulling a long hop straight to midwicket – India were pushed onto the back foot as Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara put on 93 in 14.2 overs. Jayawardene attempted one steer too many, Sangakkara slogged to a sweeper first ball of the batting Powerplay, Dinesh Chandimal swung across the line and Lahiru Thirimanne missed a sweep. Unlike India, who flourished in familiar conditions, the Sri Lankans put in a poor batting performance despite having a long line-up. India were all too happy to accept it.
"We are a side that really relies on the top four batsmen, whom we look to for strong platforms," said Dhoni after the match. India are also a side that really relies on "home" conditions, and one that has plenty of work to do overseas if it intends to justify its World Cup champion status. Days like this in Mirpur can be fulfilling, but equally can prove hollow when you look back at how India fared in Australia.
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