Dhoni clinches title for India in low-scoring thriller

MS Dhoni, the India captain, hit a match-winning 45 off 52 deliveries, including 16 runs off the last over, to take India home by one wicket in the final of the Celkon Mobile Tri-Nation Series Cup on Thursday (July 11). Rangana Herath took four wickets to bring Sri Lanka back into the game after Rohit Sharma had anchored India’s chase with a stoic 89-ball 58. India survived the nervy last few overs before Dhoni unleashed himself to revive memories of the World Cup final against the same opponent two years ago.

Earlier, Sri Lanka, from a comfortable 171/2, lost eight wickets for 30 runs and folded for a tame 201. Ravindra Jadeja, the most incisive with the ball on a favourable day for bowlers, posted figures of 4 for 23. Kumar Sangakkara top scored for Sri Lanka with a patient 71 off 100 balls. Lahiru Thirimanne (46) gave his former captain good assistance but that was all the resistance that Sri Lanka could offer with the bat.

With the asking rate a little over four runs per over, India started its reply cautiously. Shikhar Dhawan’s series ended, when he fended an unplayable short delivery from Shaminda Eranga to Sangakkara behind the wickets. Sri Lanka sensed a glimmer of hope with India at 23 for 1. When the second wicket, of Virat Kohli, fell at 27, Sri Lanka, well and truly had one foot in the door.

Rohit and Dinesh Karthik went about rebuilding the innings with care, letting a lot of the deliveries go past them. When they had seemingly managed to gauge the nature of the pitch, a few attractive strokes came to the fore – Karthik’s straight drive off Malinga being a memorable one. But Karthik got out, just as the partnership was about to touch 50, edging a Herath delivery to first slip trying to hit a forceful shot through the off.

India was 77 for 3 in 23 overs as Rohit patiently built his innings, absorbing blows to his body. Aided by a couple of fortuitous top edges, he looked set to see India home, reaching his half-century off 80 balls.

With Suresh Raina joining in the effort, the second fifty of the Indian innings came in just 48 balls. Raina unfurled an off-drive lofting Lakmal over long on, and Rohit hit a few peaches himself as the target continued to be whittled down. But Herath came in soon after to dismiss Rohit with a ball that kept low. The hopes of the Sri Lankan faithful had surged once again. The going got worse for India when Raina (32 off 27) was caught behind, off Lakmal, with the target still 57 runs away.

Herath went on to trap Jadeja and Ashwin LBW off consecutive deliveries, with India still 50 runs short. Sri Lanka were suddenly the firm favourites with India teetering at 152 for 7. Herath eventually finished with sensational figures of 4 for 20 runs from his 10 overs.

For India, it all came down to Dhoni to pull out his finishing magic and save the day for his team once again. He collected two boundaries off Malinga as the Power Play ended with India needing 37 from 10 overs. Suranga Lakmal delivered a maiden 41stover. The pressure was mounting but Dhoni stood helpless as Malinga trapped Bhuvneshwar Kumar with a slow yorker.  There was a brief stoppage in play as a water bottle was thrown at Malinga before a 15-run partnership for the ninth wicket between Dhoni and Vinay Kumar moved the pendulum back in India’s favour.

Vinay, however, lost his cool and popped a catch to short third man, leaving Ishant Sharma, the next man in, to fend off a desperate Sri Lankan charge for victory. Ishant survived two run-out chances before Dhoni got the strike in the last over with India needing 15 to win. The first ball from Eranga survived a massive heave but Dhoni launched on to him in the next, hitting the top of the stand over the long off fence. He followed that up with a carve over point for a four. With five required off three deliveries, Dhoni carted Eranga for a six over extra cover to seal the Celkon Mobile Cup for India.

Earlier, with Dhoni declared fit for the final, India had received a much-needed boost ahead of the all-important game. Dhoni walked out for the toss, won it and decided to bowl. India decided to rest Umesh Yadav and recalled Vinay. Murali Vijay made way for the captain. Sri Lanka brought back Kusal Perera for Jeevan Mendis, and the rushed-in Lakmal replaced Dilhara Lokuhettige.

On a wicket that both captains reckoned favoured batting, the ever-reliable Bhuvneshwar was off-color initially even as Sri Lanka began quietly, collecting boundaries through nudges. But there was to be no reprise of the 174 or Tharanga as he inside edged Bhuvneshwar to Dhoni.

Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene looked to be watchful and cashed in on anything loose. Sri Lanka made their way to 49 for 1 when Jayawardene, playing in his 400th ODI, found Ashwin at slip as he tried to drive Bhuvneshwar in the 14th over.

Meanwhile, Sangakkara notched up his 77th ODI fifty (off 85 balls, 3×4) as Sri Lanka gained momentum with the second Power Play looming. A flurry of boundaries followed, with Sangakkara stamping his class. Ishant, taken for 15 runs in the 38th overs, provided some respite, removing Thirimanne for 46 (72 balls, 4×4), with the score at 171 for 3.

But Sangakkara was out soon after, Vinay Kumar taking a neat catch off Ashwin’s bolwing.  Ashwin then drew Kusal Perera with a tossed up delivery, beating him with turn and bounce for Dhoni to complete an easy stumping. Chandimal found the square leg fielder as he swept Jadeja and, suddenly, Sri Lanka had collapsed to 183 for 6 from a threatening 171 for 2 in just 28 balls. Mathews fell trying to slog, slicing to third man, as Sri Lanka folded soon after for 201 in 48.5 overs.

(Courtesy: International Cricket Council)