Quite a few times during Sri Lanka’s successful chase, which resulted in their two-wicket win over India, Virat Kohli would have missed a spinner. The Indian skipper would have rued not playing Amit Mishra and regretted choosing pace bowling all-rounder Stuart Binny as Varun Aaron’s replacement. Binny scored a four-ball duck and looked completely innocuous with his dibbly-dobblies. On a Fatullah Cricket Stadium pitch, where the ball gripped and stayed low, Mishra would have turned the ball and, maybe, the game in India’s favour.
The two frontline spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, did enough to pull things back for their team. Jadeja removed Mahela Jayawardene and Dinesh Chandimal in the first two balls of his fifth over to put the brakes on Sri Lanka’s run chase. The left-arm spinner accounted for Chaturanga de Silva in his final over to keep India in the hunt but after his spell, India dragged their feet and finally gave up. Jadeja finished with three for 30 in his 10 overs.
Ashwin, returning to his usual action and wearing half sleeves, bowled well, too. Forty-two runs in his 10 overs with the wickets of Kusal Perera and Lahiru Thirimanne, was a good effort. He also reached the landmark of 100 ODI wickets in the process. But, by the time he and Jadeja were finished, five more overs were to be played. With Kumar Sangakkara and Thisara Perera at the crease and no specialist spinner at hand for Kohli, Sri Lanka had little worry. Pacers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami did get a few toe-crushers in but still the runs leaked. Eventually, Sri Lanka won by two wickets, with four balls to spare, to top the group. They now have only Bangladesh and Afghanistan to play against and their place in the final looks almost certain. For India, they will have to win against Pakistan on Sunday to stay afloat in the competition.
Despite their fast bowlers’ lack of discipline, India would have managed to defend the total had they been sharp on the field. A total of five catches were dropped, and that meant Sri Lanka were let off the hook too often. A collision between Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan in the third over during Sri Lanka’s run chase allowed Thirimanne a reprieve. He was on one then. Four runs later, Jadeja dropped him at cover. Shami was the bowler on both occasions. Perera got a life when he was on 36. Another tough chance at deep mid-wicket off Binny and once again it was the team’s best fielder Jadeja who had failed to hold on to the catch. The two openers went on to add 80 runs for the first wicket.
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But India were worst hit by a missed stumping as it would have dismissed Kumar Sangakkara. It was a faster delivery down the leg side from Jadeja that Sangakkara missed and lost his balance. Dinesh Karthik swung his hand towards the stumps but missed them completely. The left-hander ended up as his team’s batting hero with an 84-ball 103, his 18th hundred in this format.
It was a terrific innings under the circumstances. Sangakkara never looked to be in any sort of hurry but still ended up with a strike rate of 122-plus. He had to stay till the end to see his team through as wickets were falling at the other end. And when he got out in the 49th over, Sri Lanka were just seven runs away.
India’s young batsman would benefit a lot if they learn a few things from the Sri Lankan. Most of them lacked application. The pitch didn’t offer sharp turn but still eight Indian wickets went down to Sri Lanka’s spinners. Kohli got a very good delivery from Ajantha Mendis — a carrom ball that crashed into the off stump. Actually, Mendis’s inclusion in this game turned out to be a master stroke for Sri Lanka.
The 27-year-old has always suffered for his inconsistency. But today was a good day for him and he deserved his four wickets. Sachithra Senanayake took three for 41 and left-arm spinner Chaturanga de Silva bagged Ambati Rayudu’s wicket. After a promising start, the latter just threw it away.
In fact, Sri Lanka were one bowler short as Mathews limped off after bowling just 3.2 overs. As usual, Lasith Malinga was not menacing against India, taking just one wicket for 58 runs in his 10 overs. But Mendis, with the wickets of Dhawan and Karthik inside three balls in his seventh over, was the game changer. From 175/3 at one stage, India were reduced to 247 for nine before a couple of sixes from Shami gave the total some respectability.
Earlier, Dhawan and Kohli put on 97 runs for the second wicket after an out-of-sorts Rohit Sharma got out cheaply. Dhawan returned to his one-day form after low scores in his last seven innings. But unlike Kohli, he still hasn’t acquired the skill to guide his team till the end.