Sri Lanka arrived here half-awake. And they sleep-walked throughout the entire duration of the game. Skipper Angelo Mathews had looked iffy when asked about his team’s intensity level in the pre-match press conference. His fear became reality at the Barabati Stadium on Sunday. The visitors ,who only got to know of the stop-gap India tour in the middle of a six week fitness programme, were clearly not ready yet to take on the world champions. Against an unprepared opponent, India made merry, with the bat and ball. And the result was a whopping 169-run victory and a 1-0 advantage in the five match series.
The two openers, Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane were the chief architects of this victory. Both scored hundreds — Dhawan’s sixth in ODIs and Rahane’s second — and put on 231 runs for the first wicket. They also came within striking distance of knocking Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly off their perch. Tendulkar and Ganguly hold the opening partnership record for India in limited-overs cricket — 258 against Kenya at Paarl in 2001.
Dhawan and Rahane came very close, plundering 27 fours and five sixes between them.
It took a stroke of misfortune to give Sri Lanka an opening. Off the last ball of the 35th over, an Ashan Priyanjan delivery deflected off Dhawan’s boot and rolled on to hit the leg stump. About 40,000 fans stood up to applaud his effort but the batsman left dejected. Close on his heels went Rahane. He checked his shot and skied a Suraj Randiv full toss to Mahela Jayawardene at mid-off. By then, however, the scoreboard was reading 247/2 in 37.5 overs, and a total in excess of 350 was very much in sight.
Both Rahane and Dhawan were clinical in their approach and complemented each other. They took time to settle down. Only 43 runs were scored in the first 10 overs. The next 10 too yielded just 47. But with the base set, an explosion followed. It was the 21st over of the Indian innings and Randiv was bowling. Dhawan employed a paddle sweep for four. A reverse sweep to the third-man fence followed. Dhawan wanted more and charged down the wicket to hit a six over long-on before playing the last ball quietly at his feet.
Randiv, who was playing his first ODI in three years, was shaken. So were his team mates. Debutant pace bowler Lahiru Gamage was taken care of with a 15-run over as India took the batting power-play midway (24th over) into their innings. In fact, from that point onwards, all the bowlers were treated with contempt.
Mathews tried his hand and conceded 18 runs in the 28th over. Sri Lanka all but surrendered. To make matters worse, they fielded like amateurs and dropped three catches and missed one simple run out opportunity. Both Dhawan and Rahane were given reprieves, on 10 and 38 respectively.
Rahane reached his hundred with a single down the ground. Dhawan, in contrast, hit a six off Seekuge Prasanna to get to three figures. Suresh Raina ensured there was no let up even after their dismissals. Before the start of the match, he was felicitated by Orissa Cricket Association for his 200th ODI appearance. And during his 34-ball 52, the left-hander reached another landmark, crossing 5,000 runs in this format. Stand-in captain Virat Kohli scored 22 runs off 21 balls. Ambati Rayudu made 27 (20 balls), while Axar Patel gave the finishing touches hitting two sixes in a four-ball 14 as India finished on 363.
Sri Lanka have lost only one limited-overs series this year. But in Cuttack, they played without pride or purpose. India meanwhile had pace upfront. This was the first time Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron were playing together in an ODI. And they made their presence felt with sharpness and bounce. While Aaron had to limp off with a quadriceps injury in his fifth over the other two pacers kept doing damage. Tillakaratne Dilshan edged a Yadav outswinger bowled in the high 140kmph to Wriddhiman Saha.
While Ishant removed Kumar Sangakkara with the one that seamed away. Patel beat Mahela Jayawardene in the air and a simple catch went to Kohli at short cover. Sri Lanka batted out 39.2 overs before eventually being bowled out for 194.
With Sri Lanka showing no inclination for a fight Ishant returned with a four-wicket haul while Saha took four catches in his stop-gap assignment as MS Dhoni’s replacement. The only concern for India was Aaron’s injury. The Jharkhand quick will be assessed tomorrow.