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June 23, 2010

In case we’re lacking any, here’s all the motivation India needs to win tomorrow’s match against Sri Lanka and win the frikkin Asia Cup.

Two years ago we were in a similar position. We’d convincingly chased down a 300+ score just two days before the final (Mendis didn’t play that game). Nevertheless, our chances of winning the trophy  looked pretty good.

When the final began, Ishant bowled like a dream. The fielding was good and only Jayasuriya was still out there. But then he fought back, and things didn’t look easy anymore. Memories of that match threatened to engulf me. They managed a decent 273. Not so out of reach, right?

Right, said Sehwag with his piratey slashes and violence even though Gambhir was out early. Mahela was forced to bring Mendis on in the 10th over, because of Sehwag. And then there were none.

Mendis’s first over saw the backs of Sehwag and Yuvraj, in his third he took out Raina, the fourth accounted for Rohit Sharma and when he returned for his second spell he removed Irfan Pathan and RP in his sixth over. We lost the match by a 100 runs.

Uthappa, the only guy that day who went out to Muralitharan (He came in between Mendis’s two spells) has still not made it back to the national team.

The hype after the match, about Mendis the unplayable mystery spinner extended to the tour of Sri Lanka where we lost the test series 2-1. Sure the review system too claimed victims but that was more because we used it poorly.

It’s the last series we lost and a series I consider was the real beginning of the end for Dada’s test career.

It was a series where Sehwag reinforced his importance and Gambhir began laying the foundations of his period of dominance but it will be mostly remembered for the collective failure of the Fab Four. Trying to escape from Mendis, they ran into Murali. By the time of the last test, Dammika Prasad proved too much to handle. Of all the usual short sighted criticisms and persecutions that followed, the harshest were directed at Ganguly.

Dhoni, then only the ODI and T20 captain, famously skipped that test series which came on the back of the hectic, inaugural IPL.

Sachin needed 171 runs in that series to overtake Lara’s 11,953 and become the top run scorer of all time in test cricket. Sri Lanka’s tourism board offered packages to fans from India so that they could come watch him break the record. He managed 95 in 6 innings, one run lesser than Dada’s series aggregate. Ganguly declared his retirement at the beginning of the next test series.

The young guns redeemed themselves somewhat by winning the ODI series that followed, Ravindra Jadeja and Virat Kohli made their debut in that if I’m not wrong but the test series still stung.

I may be going too far by tying the Asia Cup final to the whole tour of SL but that was a very low point of our test performances throughout the noughties. Perhaps it was the first realization of the fact that the big four would not be around forever. It was a glimpse of what the future would look like. And it was not good. Our reputation was seriously dented and the questions the series forced us to ask went beyond mere correction.

The situation repeated itself against South Africa at Nagpur earlier this year but look how the team pulled back from there. Which is why tomorrow I’m gonna be watching the final. To see if we’ve learnt anything from two years ago. To win the Asia Cup 15 years after last having won it. To grab Sangakkara’s ever appealing (the owwwazaaaaeeeeeeeoooy! kind, not the come-hither-and-touch-me kind) throat and choke it till the annoying smirk is gone.

And if all that is still not good enough, if you’re still of the belief that the 50 over game and the Asia Cup are shit-all compared to the FIFA World Cup, here’s just the thing you need to watch to get your blood boiling:

PS: Our bowlers do better with bats in their hands and Mendis is not playing tomorrow so that takes the context out of it a little but remember this too: that 2008 series was when this never-ending Indo-Sri Lanka ODI love started.
PPS: I know we played SL in the CB Series in Australia earlier that year but it was after this series that it became too much.

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