Virat Kohli bossed yet another tricky chase, taking charge after India had lost its openers early, and Yuvraj Singh wound back the clock with some majestic hits to script a five-wicket win over Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup 2016 game on Tuesday (March 1) at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium.
After the bowlers had produced another clinical performance to keep Sri Lanka down to 138 for 9, India raced to 142 for 5 with four deliveries to spare to secure its place in Sunday’s final.
There are very few sights in modern-day cricket as appealing as Yuvraj connecting cleanly. He hasn’t managed to do it too often of late, but against Rangana Herath, he did, twice off consecutive balls. The wet outfield and the underfoot conditions weren’t making life any good for Herath anyway, and he did beat Yuvraj for flight on the first occasion, but the batsman went through with the shot anyway, hitting it straight down the ground. The next one was even sweeter, sent well over deep mid-wicket.
Yuvraj had walked in with serious intent, slashing the second ball he faced, off Dasun Shanaka, over point for four. A bit too much belligerence, one thought, as he swung and missed a couple, but he didn’t change his ways, brutalising Thisara Perera over cover for another six to help India cross 100 with more than five overs left in its chase. But one swing too many sent him back for 35 in 18 balls, with three fours and three sixes. By then, however, India had gotten to within 19 runs of victory.
As Yuvraj thundered on, Kohli was a trifle overshadowed for a change, but he played the major role in making it three in three for India. Classy flicks, a cover-drive that found an almost non-existent gap between short-cover and mid-off, patented whip drives, cuts and slices and glides and punches, he played them all. And when Suresh Raina was giving him company with a 26-ball 25 in a third-wicket stand 54, the running was brilliant as well.
Soon after Yuvraj was dismissed, caught at deep fine-leg off Perera, Herath bowled out Hardik Pandya. But with MS Dhoni for company, Kohli carried on, reaching his half-century towards the end before finishing unbeaten on 56 from 47 balls, with seven hits to the fence in another remarkably mature innings.
Earlier, after it was asked to bat by Dhoni, Sri Lanka promoted Chamara Kapugedara to No. 4. He was wasted lower down, while Sri Lanka fitted in Shanaka first and then Shehan Jayasuriya at that slot in the first two games. Kapugedara coming in when Sri Lanka was 15 for 2 in the fourth over, which soon became 31 for 3, was a sensible ploy.
Kapugedara managed to keep the innings together after Ashish Nehra and Jasprit Bumrah had both bowled incisive spells upfront, and he kept calm as Pandya sent back Tillakaratne Dilshan hooking to R Ashwin at deep fine-leg after a 16-ball 18 and then had Angelo Mathews playing on. It might not have worked out had Nehra’s appeal for leg before been upheld when Kapugedara was yet to get off the mark. But not out it was, and Kapugedara held his own from there on.
There were smaller knocks of substance – Mathews’ 18 in 19 balls and a more enterprising 17-ball 22 from Milinda Siriwardena, who hit a lovely straight six off Ravindra Jadeja, the shot of the innings.
Siriwardena fell caught at long-on off Ashwin and Kapugedara was finally sent on his way by Bumrah after a smart catch at deep mid-wicket by Pandya off a well-timed swipe after scoring 30 in 32 balls.
That was in the 18th over, by which time a platform had been set.
Perera first and Nuwan Kulasekara in the last over cashed in. Perera muscled two fours and a six in a six-ball 17 before being done in by the Ashwin-Dhoni combine. He had stepped out and shaped to go heave-ho, but Ashwin sent the ball wide and Dhoni whipped off the bails in a flash. Kulasekara chipped in with two fours, both off full tosses from Nehra in the last over, before being run out off the last ball – the perfect Kohli throw from deep mid-wicket stopping him at 13 from nine balls.
To help its reply along, India had its first-choice opening pair back – Shikhar Dhawan recovering sufficiently from an ankle niggle and Rohit Sharma not suffering any long-term damage from Mohammad Amir’s toe-crusher. But Dhawan fell edging Kulasekara in the second over to be dismissed for 1 after having scored 2 against Bangladesh, and though Rohit was better, scoring 15 in 14 balls with some sweet strikes along the way, he nicked a drive off the same bowler to Kapugedara at slip to start the trudge back.
Once Kohli and Yuvraj got together, though, the early reversals didn’t matter. Sri Lanka now has one win from three games, and an early flight out is on the cards.