In a battle of spinners at Fatullah, it was only fitting that the match turned from one extreme to the other. Above everything towered Kumar Sangakkara, with an innings of calm and class, hitting 103 in 84 balls, while Ajantha Mendis and Sachithra Senanayake stole a march over R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja as Sri Lanka sealed a thriller by two wickets in the final over on Friday (February 28).
India had been kept to 264 for 9 at Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium, and Sri Lanka squeaked home in 49.2 overs, having lost Sangakkara an over before Thisara Perera struck the winning single.
The win all but assured Sri Lanka of a spot in the final of the 2014 Asia Cup, with only matches against Bangladesh and Afghanistan to follow. India was left to rue the several lapses it made in the field, including a missed stumping off Sangakkara and a dropped sitter off Perera by Shikhar Dhawan in the final over bowled by Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Mendis’s carom balls were back in force, accounting for both Virat Kohli (48 in 51 balls) and Dhawan (94 in 114) at key moments on the way to figures of 4 for 60. Ashwin (2 for 42) and Jadeja (3 for 30) then performed their own star turns but Sangakkara’s decisive hand tilted the result in Sri Lanka’s favour.
That Sangakkara got his 18th One-Day International century was almost incidental. He was in a different class from any other batsman on show. He used his feet decisively and his driving was imperious. His only blip came in the 30th over, when Dinesh Karthik missed an easy stumping chance off Jadeja with the Sri Lankan veteran on 30 off 36.
Where India failed to capitalise though, Sangakkara did. He had joined Kusal Perera when the chase seemed well on course after the openers had put on 80 in 17.2 overs, but saw things unravel quickly.
Sri Lanka was motoring along when a beauty from Ashwin pitched on the stumps, turned appreciably and kissed Kusal’s edge for Karthik to complete a good take. A double-wicket over from Jadeja then had India whooping, with Mahela Jayawardene hitting straight to mid-off and Dinesh Chandimal flummoxed by a peach that turned past bat to knock back off stump. From 134 for 1, Sri Lanka was 148 for 4 in the 32nd over, and would have been in even more trouble if Karthik hadn’t flubbed the Sangakkara stumping.
Sri Lanka held back Thisara Perera till No. 9, but Sangakkara stood tall and at 216 for 7, with 49 needed off 41, one false shot could have altered the result. But the man whose wicket India wanted remained standing. With Ashwin and Jadeja bowled out by the 45th over, Sangakkara launched into Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and India had no answers. It was a brilliant display of Sangakkara’s ability to not only absorb pressure, but also wait for the calculated risk and then bring it off.
But the fact that Sri Lanka had a reasonable total to chase was down to Mendis.
Mendis, who had burst on to the scene in 2008 with a clutch of wickets against India, had a meteoric rise, but India soon figured him out, to the extent that Sri Lanka began to leave the mystery spinner out of the XI when playing its subcontinental neighbours. Before this match, the last time Mendis had played against India in an ODI was in June 2010 in a tri-series in Zimbabwe, when both countries sent under-strength teams. This time, he was brought in for Suranga Lakmal, keeping the conditions in mind, and he repaid the faith in abundance.
India’s start was sedate, with Rohit Sharma’s struggles at the top of the order continuing. Rohit was unable to get the score moving and when he fell, India was 33 for 1 in the tenth over.
Virat Kohli looked in supreme touch as soon as he came out, getting into his stride as the run rate picked up. The Kohli-Dhawan stand had started to look ominous, but Sri Lanka found its man for the moment in Mendis. In his fifth over, the 27th of the innings, Mendis landed one on the spot to beat Kohli’s bat and rattle the stumps, leaving India 130 for 2. The India captain could only shake his head ruefully, since he had got a peach.
There was a brief 45-run stand between Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane, but an impetuous shot by Rahane off Sachithra Senanayake took the outside edge to short third man. Mendis didn’t take long after that to strike his second decisive blow, accounting for Dhawan with a carom ball, slightly quicker. Dhawan’s innings had been a measured one, combining plenty of singles with boundaries square of the wicket whenever the bowlers erred. But when he fell, India stuttered.
The new-look middle order faltered while facing its first acid test in the absence of an innings-carrying knock from Kohli. Neither Karthik nor Ambati Rayudu stuck around. Stuart Binny, included in place of the misfiring Varun Aaron, didn’t have a first international innings to remember, falling for a duck to Senanayake, as India slipped from 196 for 3 to 215 for 7.
Late hitting by Ashwin, Jadeja and Shami ensured they gave themselves something to bowl at and it nearly turned out to be enough, but not when they had to contend with Sangakkara’s mastery.
(Courtesy: International Cricket Council)