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Feisty Sri Lanka surge to stunning win

Wisden India logo Wisden India 08-06-2017
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After meandering through rain and one-sided matches for a week, the Champions Trophy 2017 finally got its much-needed thriller.

And in a result that will only make the tournament more interesting in the days ahead, self-confessed underdogs Sri Lanka thumped India by seven wickets after successfully chasing a stiff target of 322 at the Oval on Thursday (June 8).

Full scorecard: India vs Sri Lanka

Victory was made possible by aggressive batting, as promised by Angelo Mathews, their captain. The personnel who did that were Kusal Mendis (89) and Danushka Gunathilaka (76), who wasn’t even in the squad until an injury to Chamara Kapugedera on the eve of the game.

The pair added 159 in 139 balls for the second wicket to set up the chase before passing on the baton to Mathews (52) and Kusal Perera (47), who took the game away from India with a 75-run stand for the fourth wicket before the latter was forced to retire hurt. Asela Gunaratne then played his part with an unbeaten 34 as Sri Lanka won with eight balls to spare.

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The impeccably timed chase meant Shikhar Dhawan’s third century (125) in seven Champions Trophy innings that powered India to 321 for 6 went in vain. It also meant that after two matches each, all the four teams in Group B have one win each, rendering the last two league games virtual quarterfinal clashes.

Sri Lanka’s chase started with Niroshan Dickwella misreading a knuckle ball from Bhuvneshwar Kumar and popping a leading edge to point. With Bhuvneshwar and Umesh Yadav finding swing, Sri Lanka managed only 22 runs in the first seven overs.

But it all changed quickly when when Gunathilaka pulled Umesh into the stands at the beginning of the eighth, signalling a shift in fortunes. Gunathilaka took charge with some glorious drives, particularly down the ground, while Mendis too started confidently, shifting the pressure on to India gradually.

India could have had Mendis in the 15th over but Hardik Pandya could not hold on to a sharp return chance. Gunathilaka rubbed salt into Pandya’s wounds by heaving him for a massive six to get to his half-century, in the process taking Sri Lanka to 108 for 1 in 20 overs. It was one run ahead of where India were at the same stage.

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But a good beginning is not even a job half done, as Sri Lanka found out the hard way against South Africa. The middle-overs batting was the most crucial phase of the chase, and how Sri Lanka handled Ravindra Jadeja was in particular important, given that they had crumbled against Imran Tahir’s legspin.

Mendis took that task upon himself and dismantled the left-arm spinner’s threat with smart batting. With only four fielders allowed inside the ring, Mendis targeted the mid-wicket boundary to perfection, getting past fifty with one such massive swipe into the crowd.

Jadeja conceded 36 from four overs, the partnership crossed 150, and India’s shoulders began to drop. It didn’t help that Rohit Sharma could not hold on to a very tough chance in the deep when Gunathilaka was on 70.

India’s desperation was evident when Kedhar Jadhav and Virat Kohli came on to bowl, but the breakthroughs came via run outs.

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(Video provided by The Times of India)

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Umesh and MS Dhoni first combined to catch Gunathilaka just short of his second run in the 28th over before Bhuvneshwar’s quick work and accurate throw on his follow through got Mendis. 

A run-out had changed Sri Lanka’s fortunes in their previous game but this time, they had the experience of Mathews and a calm Kusal Perera. They knew exactly what to do, and with some controlled aggression, got the equation down to 51 off 42 from the 126 off 104 when they joined.

India were also becoming increasingly impatient and sloppy on the field, but they got an opening when Perera was forced off the field with a hamstring injury after 43 overs. It only resulted in Gunaratne playing some unbelievable shots in a cameo that clinched the game.

Earlier, Dhawan added 138 with Rohit (78) – their third century and sixth 50-plus stand in seven Champions Trophy innings — before Dhoni applied the finishing touches with a 52-ball 63.

Sri Lanka’s bowlers were in the firing line with all the three frontline pacers including Lasith Malinga conceding more than 70 runs each.

After opting to field, the Sri Lankan bowlers tried to restrict India’s openers with straight lines but the lengths weren’t as tight, resulting in the odd boundary to go with plenty of quick singles.

Rohit pressed on the accelerator, swatting Thisara Perera for two sixes in the 20th over to go past his half-century but perished to the mood, pulling Malinga to long-leg one ball after successfully hitting a similar one for six. One brought two when Virat Kohli edged Nuwan Pradeep to the wicketkeeper in the next over without scoring. All of a sudden, India had to rebuild after slipping to 139 for 2.

Dhawan wrested the momentum by hitting five boundaries in the next three overs, but with Yuvraj Singh settling in, India scored only 13 runs between the 30th and 34th overs. Dhawan slowed down, going 26 balls without a boundary in that period, and India also lost Yuvraj.

The innings got the impetus once again with Dhoni’s arrival. His calculated aggression rubbed off on Dhawan, who went past his century by cutting Pradeep to the deep point fence. Once the landmark was out of the way, there was attack from both ends, aided by plenty of full tosses.

Dhawan holed out in the 45th over, but Dhoni and Jadhav finished powerfully as India added 103 runs in the last ten overs. As things turned out, even that wouldn’t be enough.

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