India's cup of woes overflows

SP
Till Tuesday, Mahinda Rajapaksa had never seen the Sri Lankan women's cricket team play an international match. The President, who is no stranger to cricket stadiums back home, probably wasn't even aware of many of the players in the present lot. He couldn't have chosen a better day though to turn on his television and catch his first-ever glimpse of Shashikala Siriwardene & her ebullient lot.

One where they rewrote history in the most charming of fashions, even if it meant they had to play party-poopers and cause a major heartbreak by knocking out the hosts within the first week of the World Cup. And an elated Rajapaksa couldn't help himself from showering his praise on the girls who had just brought immense pride and joy for the island nation by becoming the first Sri Lankan women's team to progress past the first stage of a multinational event. The call from the supremo even ended up interrupting Siriwardene during her post-match press conference-with the Sri Lankan media manager gate-crashing the forum screaming, "It's our country's President on the line"—but she wasn't complaining.

In fact, Sri Lanka's final league encounter of the World Cup was also only the second-ever televised international women's cricket match in the Emerald Isle. They were after all rank outsiders going into the tournament, having never defeated a top-four ranked team previously in an ODI. But they changed that statistic by recording their maiden win over England last week. At the Brabourne Stadium, by sending the Indians packing by a significant margin of 138 runs, they also proved that Sri Lankan women's cricket had arrived and was here to stay.

Rarely has an unfancied team outplayed the favourite in more convincing fashion than the way in which Siriwardene & Co thrashed the home team on Tuesday-their first win over India after 16 straight defeats. Not to forget this was their first-ever match under lights. It was the Indians who froze though and how.

It didn't look like India's day from the very start even though Jhulan Goswami managed to dismiss opener Chamari Atapattu in the first over of Sri Lanka's innings. The bowling was too ragged. Both Goswami and Amita Sharma bowled far too many wide deliveries, allowing Yashoda Mendis and Deepika Rasangika easy options to collect boundaries, which the two did with ease. India lost control of proceedings too early in the piece, and never quite managed to restore parity in the contest.

Sri Lanka's charge was led by four half-centuries, each contrasting in its style. The lanky Mendis stood tall in her stance and drove and flicked with grace, her timing flawless on most occasions. Rasangika, who top-scored with 84, swatted and swung her bat against the line of the ball in kamikaze fashion from the moment she was promoted to No.3. She might have been fortuitous at times but the Indian bowling wasn't consistent enough to bring an end to the left-hander's audacity. The Lankan skipper on the other hand, her mannerisms before facing a delivery reminiscent of Mahela Jayawardene, showed an impressive ability to hit the gaps, and also used her feet well against the spinners. Eshani Kaushalya then bulldozed India out of the contest with a manic assault that left Goswami & Co as well as the stands at the CCI reeling. It probably was Kaushalya's unbeaten 31-ball 56 that knocked the wind out of India's sails as the Lankans piled on 282 in their 50 overs.

Going nowhere

While a win seemed out of reach, India were set a target of 251 to at least ensure their passage past the first round. They never looked like getting anywhere close to either. Against a Sri Lankan attack, which possessed no real evil, Mithali Raj & Co batted like they'd seen the devil itself. They were too cagey, overawed and seemed bereft of ideas, and before long were reduced to 69/5. Reema Malhotra kept the tri-colour flying for a brief while but the curtains were soon drawn on India's World Cup dreams with the hosts being bowled out for 144.

Few would have imagined epitaphs being written about India's campaign this early in the competition. This was after all supposed to be the platform for Raj & Co to finally break free from the shadows of their male counterparts. Unfortunately they were not good enough, and ended up falling flat on their faces.

Brief scores: Sri Lanka 282/5 in 50 overs (D Rasangika 84, S Siriwardene 59, E Kaushalya 56*; J Goswami 3/63) bt India 144 all out in 42.2 overs (R Malhotra 38; S Siriwardene 2/20, C Seneviratna 2/10) by 138 runs.

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