Midway into the Sri Lankan innings, the stadium suddenly became a little quiet. The visitors were 68/5 after 11.3 overs, chasing a victory target of 197 and the fans started to leave.
The JSCA International Complex in Ranchi is about 15 kilometres off main city and is not very easily accessible if you don’t own a vehicle. The match was all but over, only formality remained.
Pune proved to be just an aberration. MS Dhoni’s India enjoyed home comfort in the second T20 international and squared the series with a thumping 69-run win, which was India’s third highest ever victory (in terms of runs) in a T20 international. Shikhar Dhawan laid the foundation with a blistering 51 off 25 balls, Rohit Sharma complemented him well with 43 off 36, Suresh Raina and Hardik Pandya provided the impetus at the death and then, the bowlers, led by R Ashwin, imposed themselves on the opposition. Normality had been restored. India were back to winning ways.
Pitch to India’s liking
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The pitch was much to his liking and Dhoni was at the top of his game, captaincy-wise. He made all the right calls, from retaining an unchanged XI to sending Pandya up the order and opening the bowling with Ashwin. The skipper also directly contributed to three Sri Lankan wickets, whipping the bails off in a flash to stump Tillakaratne Dilshan and Dinesh Chandimal, and taking a relatively easier offering off Ashish Nehra’s bowling to get rid of Danushka Gunathilaka. He is in terrific wicket-keeping form at the moment.
The night, however, belonged to Dhawan who set up the game for his team. He and Rohit came to the crease looking to settle the score after Dinesh Chandimal opted to field, ostensibly because of the dew factor. In fact, a response was due after batting meltdown in the series opener and the Indian openers were hot pursuit.
Kasun Rajitha started off with a wide delivery and Rohit cracked it past point for four. The medium pacer over-corrected his line and length and bowled full on the pads. Rohit whipped it superbly between mid-wicket and mid-on for a couple. On a good outfield it would have been another boundary, but here the batsmen never got full value of their shots.
In Pune, Rajitha had accounted for Rohit and Ajinkya Rahane in the first over. In Ranchi, he conceded seven runs without a wicket. On a lively surface in Pune, Sri Lanka had three slips, at one point, during power-play. On a ‘subcontinent’ pitch in Ranchi, the lone slip fielder was moved to short mid-wicket after just three balls.
Dhawan trusted this surface and played through the line. A towering six over deep mid-wicket off Thisara Perera was his opening act followed by another maximum over deep backward square off Sachithra Senanayake. Rajitha was smacked for three consecutive fours; the left-hander had been going from strength to strength.
His maiden T20 fifty came in 22 balls but Dhawan was out soon, being done in by the extra bounce of Dushmantha Chameera. This 24-year-old Sri Lankan has got serious pace. Even on an unresponsive deck he was bowling at 140-plus. Chandimal might have missed a trick by not bringing him on early. Dhawan’s departure saw India take the foot off the pedal a little.
Drop in run rate
Rahane at No. 3 was struggling to up the ante before he hit Dasun Shanaka for back-to-back boundaries. And both he and Rohit got out at the wrong time, allowing the visitors a glimmer of hope. At 127/3 after 14.2 overs the hosts were in danger of losing the momentum. But Raina and Pandya – promoted up the order – grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and took it beyond Sri Lanka’s reach with a 59-run partnership off 26 balls.
Pandya bludgeoned Senanayake, Raina punished Chameera with four fours in an over. It was a game-changing partnership, so much so that even a hat-trick by Perera proved to be of little significance. Perera dismissed Pandya with a low full-toss that was hit straight to long-on. Raina, walking across the stumps, scooped one to backward square leg. And Yuvraj mistimed a full length delivery to be holed out at long-on. By then, however, India were safe.
Given enough runs to play with, Dhoni choked the opposition with spin. Ashwin was absolutely brilliant for his three wickets. Yuvraj did well as a back-up spinner and Ravindra Jadeja removed Chamara Kapugedera and Chandimal in successive deliveries to snuff the life out of Sri Lanka’s chase.
The seamers provided good assistance. Ashish Nehra took two wickets upfront. Jasprit Bumrah, held back till the 16th over, ruffled the tail with his bouncers and yorkers. He also returned with two scalps. The decider is in Vizag on Sunday. Dhoni will look for an encore.