JANUARY 7, 2020
Brief Scorecard: India 144 for 3 (Rahul 45, Iyer 34, Kohli 30*) beat Sri Lanka 142 for 9 (Kusal Perera 34, Thakur 3-23, Saini 2-18) by seven wickets
INDORE – India flexed their bowling muscles against an underwhelming Sri Lanka batting unit in Indore, Navdeep Saini taking two wickets and going for 18 across four rapid overs, while Shardul Thakur neutered the opposition at the death with three wickets of his own.
Having kept the visitors to 142 for 9 – a total Lasith Malinga felt was 25-30 short of a competitive score – India then flexed their batting muscles. KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan flew through the Powerplay overs and put on 71 for the first wicket, breaking the back of the target. Shreyas Iyer and Virat Kohli then made thirties to carry the hosts to victory, with 15 balls and seven wickets to spare.
Although there were bursts of energy in Sri Lanka’s batting, these never lasted long enough to put India under serious pressure. Each of Sri Lanka’s top three got starts, but none could make more than 35. The middle and lower order (this Sri Lanka lineup bats to as low as No. 9) kept being undone by India’s wiles.
Wanindu Hasaranga’s three successive boundaries to finish gave the innings a sheen of respectability, but the moment, Rahul hit two stunning cover drives back-to-back against Malinga, it became clear just how good this pitch was, and how much Sri Lanka were going to struggle to defend this score.
Sri Lanka fail to capitalise on start
Avishka Fernando had looked good too at the start of Sri Lanka’s innings. He had hit his own sumptuous cover drive, off Jasprit Bumrah, to get off the mark, before spanking Saini through the legside twice soon after. But when he was tested with spin, his timing fell apart. Trying to launch Washington Sundar over mid-off in the fifth over, he managed only to find the fielder, departing for 22 off 16. At the other end, Danushka Gunathilaka struggled his way through the Powerplay before Saini rattled his stumps with a 148 kph full delivery in the eighth over.
Kusal Perera then looked good through the middle period, hitting three sixes off the spinners, including an audacious reverse-pull off Kuleep Yadav. But with Sri Lanka’s scoring rate now flagging, he holed out trying for a fourth six – Kuldeep claiming the wicket immediately after that reverse-pull. Still, Sri Lanka were only four down, in the 14th over. There was plenty of firepower to come, you thought. Not a lot of big-hitting materialised, however, as Thakur and Saini in particular kept making breakthroughs in the last third of their innings.
KL Rahul imposes himself in the Powerplay
Each of the six boundaries India hit in the Powerplay came off Rahul’s bat. He clattered Lahiru Kumara through the legside for his first four, then smoked the next four boundaries through the covers – against both seam and spin. There were nervous moments during this stretch as well. In the fourth over he got a top edge off de Silva that fell into space on the legside. In the fifth over Lahiru Kumara struck him in the ribs. But he almost single-handedly hauled India to 54 by the end of six overs – a near ideal start to this chase. It took Dhawan almost until the end of the ninth over to hit his first boundary, but Rahul’s confident work had more than accounted for his tetchiness.
Hasaranga made the first inroads with the ball, first bowling an advancing Rahul through the gate with a googly, before trapping Dhawan in front (the original decision was overturned in Sri Lanka favour on review), but by this stage Sri Lanka badly needed wickets to be falling at the other end as well. They didn’t.
Sri Lanka’s struggle for menace with the ball
Sri Lanka were hamstrung by the absence of Isuru Udana, who went off the field with a muscle strain in the fourth over, after making a stop at short third man. Dasun Shanaka – Sri Lanka’s fourth-choice seam bowler – put in a decent shift as a replacement, getting through four overs for only 26 runs. But he lacked Udana’s guile. Iyer would be dismissed for 34 off 26 by Kumara, but Kohli was never going to let this chase meander. He hit a four and two sixes off the last six balls he faced, and the match was done.