Twenty-year-old Dunith Wellalage produced one of the great solo all-round efforts in ODI cricket, taking 5-40 and scoring 42* (46 balls, 3×4, 1×6) and for a while along with Dhananjay De Silva 41 (66 balls, 5×4) threatened to take Sri Lanka home in their chase of 214 in the Asia Cup Super Four Clash on a spin-friendly R Premadasa track on Tuesday.
Rohit Sharma enters 10000-run club and other records India made in just two Asia Cup matches
That’s when De Silva lost his nerve and hit Ravindra Jadeja to Shubman Gill at mid-on. India got an end open.
Maheesh Theekshana was pouched brilliantly at widish mid-on by substitute Suryakumar Yadav off an impressive Hardik Pandya (5-0-14-1) and Kuldeep Yadav, who had been hit for a slog-swept six by the young Wellalage, but had picked up two vital wickets of Sadeera Samarawickrama and Charith Asalanka before, then cleaned up tailenders Kasun Rajitha and Matheesha Pathirana in three balls of his last over to end with 4-43 and help India win by 41 runs and seal a spot in Sunday’s final.
In last league game, they face Bangladesh on Friday and the game between Pakistan and Sri Lanka on Thursday becomes a virtual shoot-out.
For a while, we were transported back to the mid-90s and early 2000s. Sri Lanka used to play on turners at Premadasa that allowed them to script unreal comebacks through players in their top six, who could bowl their full quota of finger spin. Aravinda de Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya are names that come to mind.
On Tuesday, after India won the toss, batted and rattled along to 80 for no loss with Rohit scoring a sublime half century and getting to 10,000 ODI runs in the process, one felt the Indian batters were in cruise mode again after they had plundered the Pakistan attack for 356-2 a day before.
However, the introduction of left-arm-spinner Wellalage quickly changed things. The bald, brown surface aided him. The first ball that he bowled from wide off the crease turned from middle stump and hit Gill’s off stump. The over-eagerness to play on the front foot and being fooled by the wide angle, a recurring theme for all players, accounted for Gill.
Virat Kohli, eyeing his fifth successive ton on this ground, chipped Wellalage to mid-wicket and Rohit, played from the crease to an arm ball that kept low and was castled. KL Rahul looked the most settled batter against spin. He and Ishan Kishan added 63 for the fourth wicket and despite boundaries drying up, one felt India were on the road to get 250-plus.
However, Wellalage, in his second spell, accounted for Rahul as he went back to a delivery that stopped and bounced on him and all he could do was pat the ball back to the bowler. Sri Lanka have missed key bowlers like Dilshan Madhushanka, Lahiru Kumara and Wanindu Hasaranga due to injuries.
However, in specialist batters like De Silva and Asalanka, they have cricketers who can utilize a turning pitch with fastish finger spin.
Both tied up the left-handers, Kishan, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel. Asalanka got Kishan to spoon a catch to Wellalage at cover and the latter then dismissed Pandya caught behind to complete a well-deserved five-for.
Asalanka dismissed Jadeja, Bumrah and Kuldeep quickly and at 186-9, even 200 looked doubtful. But a useful hand of 26 from Axar got India to 213.
Bumrah and Mohammad Siraj’s opening burst helped India reduce Sri Lanka to 25-3 to ensure that spinners didn’t have to do all the work.