Until Thursday this series has not been a very good advertisement for the game itself. From Galle to Pallekele, all three test matches were glaringly one sided, so was the first ODI of the series where Shikhar Dhawan almost single-handedly pulverised the Sri Lankan bowling department.
Just a week ago, the home side faced an ignominious defeat against the Indians in the last match of the test series. All of their players and support staff, including the senior and venerable figures like Angelo Mathews, were crucified by the news and social media viciously. In this second ODI, when Sri Lanka were reduced to a meagre total of 238 losing 8 wickets, the prognostications were pretty similar.
After a brief interruption caused by the capricious weather of this island, India were to chase down 231 in 47 overs and the opening duo started in a blistering fashion as if the number of overs was the half of what it actually was. Sharma made his outing count this time by reaching a superb half century in no time while his southpaw partner was well set for his seventh consecutive 50+ score against the Lankans.
The stage was set for another comprehensive Indian victory and the hosts needed some afflatus to produce something ‘out of the world’. Then Akila Dananjaya, the right arm wrist spinner who became a cause célèbre five years ago but eventually disappeared, pulled out the spell of his life. After he made a perfect riposte against Rohit Sharma by trapping him in front of the wicket, Indian dressing room probably didn’t panic at all. They probably didn’t panic when Dhawan missed his seventh consecutive 50 by a whisker, courtesy – a resplendent catch from the veteran Angelo Mathews.
But right in the next over, a coup de theatre took place. To a batting corps which is famous for their spin playing prowess, Akila’s googlies seemed literally indecipherable. Within an interval of five balls, Kedar Jadhav, Virat Kohli, and Lokesh Rahul went back to pavilion with their stumps rattled. Even Hardik Pandya, who previously toyed with the Sri Lankan bowling in this venue, was befuddled by another googly.
When Bhuvneshwar Kumar joined the former skipper, India were tottering on 131-7 with Akila Dananjaya reminding a spell from Ajantha Mendis, nine years ago. That moment, even the biggest Indian supporter probably wouldn’t think about victory. But as we all know, cricket is the embodiment of uncertainty and the imperturbable duo proved that yet again.
Kumar played an innings of his lifetime and MSD, despite managing just one boundary in his innings of 45 off 68 deliveries, proved that he can still perform his role as a finisher well enough.
As for the Lankans, though the outcome was disappointing, they would take a lot of positives for their next vendetta. Had the ball dislodged MSD’s bail, or B. Kumar been given LBW, the match report would have been entirely different. For the first time in this series, the hosts have shown a glimpse of what they are capable of. With a little more experience backing their game, this team might not turn out as hopeless as it seems now.
India 231 for 7 (Rohit 54, Bhuvneshwar 53*, Dhawan 49, Dananjaya 6-54) defeated Sri Lanka 236 for 8 (Siriwardana 58, Bumrah 4-43) by three wickets (by DLS method)