Back to the 90s
Displaying remarkable prescience before the start of the match, MS Dhoni, with his usual sage-like demeanour and circumlocutory reasoning, had this to say about his beleaguered side's chances of beating the in-form Sri Lanka with a bonus point:
"It's happening after a long time. When I was young, I used to watch these games in Sharjah and all, when equations like this were provided to the team. Often we were supposed to chase 240 or 250-odd runs in 40 overs and we have been doing that quite consistently. So the belief is there."
This was, indeed, a lot like those games, when India would often go into the final match of a series needing to win within a certain number of overs to improve their net run-rate or get a bonus point so that they could sneak into the finals.
Remember the tri-series between India, Australia and New Zealand in Sharjah in 1998 - the sponsor-pleasing Coca-Cola Cup? India were up against the unbeaten Australians in their last league match, and - after some ordinary bowling and poor fielding (some things never change) - were set a target of 285 to win the match (and back then in the days without free hits and Powerplays, 285 was equivalent to a score of about 350) or 254 to qualify on run-rate. A dust storm later, the targets were revised to 276 and 237 respectively.
All Indian fans can tell you what happened next. Sachin Tendulkar slammed 143 in 131 balls, with nine fours and five sixes - his then-highest score in ODIs and a significant achievement in the days before the 'T20 effect', literally giving nightmares to the great Shane Warne. Of course, India inevitably lost the match after his dismissal, but by the time he left, a place in the final was secure.
Indian cricket these days is painfully reminiscent of the nineties - disastrous overseas defeats, listless performances (in stark contrast to strong showings at home), batting collapses, ineffective bowling, shoddy fielding, conspiracy theories, ego clashes and in-fighting ... Why, after the incredible win against Sri Lanka on Tuesday, the faint murmurs of match-fixing also sadly completed the feel of the 90s.
Back then, however, there was one thing you could always count on the Indian team for - their unpredictability. Just when it seemed there was no hope, with their backs right up against the wall, they would pull off the improbable, an incredible win that thrilled and frustrated their long-suffering fans in equal measure, as they wondered why the players didn't perform like that more often. This is an even more legitimate question now, given that this Indian side won the World Cup less than a year ago. Why did the batting not show this intent earlier in the series and where on earth was this form throughout an overall rather dismal tour?
Still, when the results go against you more often than not, days like Tuesday - when India chased down 321 with 80 balls and seven wickets to spare, on the back of a special innings from rising star Virat Kohli - help renew the faith and rediscover the love.
"The way we batted in the second innings. I think it is going to lift the spirits of the team," said Kohli afterwards. "Sometimes if you are not playing well, and if you are committing the same mistakes, you tend to go into a shell which is really difficult to come out of, but you need to take that extra risk like we did today to come out of that shell. Hopefully if we reach the finals, then you will see a totally different Indian team out there."
Of course, India still need Australia to beat the Sri Lankans on Friday, but if they do make it to the finals, it isn't hard to imagine the team ending a desperate few months with a belief-restoring victory in the tri-series. After all, they managed it last time (in 2008), and even in Sharjah in 1998, India upstaged the Aussies to win the tournament. Incidentally, both victories came on the back of centuries from Tendulkar. Can the trend of the 90s be repeated again? At least now, the belief is there.