Sri Lanka finally showed up at the party, and it was good while it lasted, but they weren’t in it for long enough.
Led by a formidable batting effort at the top of the order, Sri Lanka looked primed for a 300-plus total on a pitch that held few demons, but after losing eight wickets for 66 runs they only got as far as 216 from 43.2 overs in the first of five One-Day Internationals at Rangiri Dambulla International stadium on Sunday (August 20).
The leader of the wrecking crew on the day was Axar Patel with figures of 3 for 34, while Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kedar Jadhav picked up two wickets each.
By no means was this a tough crowd to please. It was a Sunday afternoon after all, and the papare bands did most of the work in the background, and the Sri Lankans fleetingly entertained them with the kind of cricket the residents of the Emerald Isle have ached for.
Since that humiliating loss against Zimbabwe and the subsequent 3-0 drubbing at the hands of India in the Tests, few gave Sri Lanka a chance coming into the ODI series. Even the fans were turning into critics and not many anticipated an evenly matched contest.
But Sri Lanka showed that by sticking to a plan and working out the chinks along the way without losing patience can level the playing field, but sadly they couldn’t maintain the attitude all the way.
That said, Sri Lanka were capable of starving India’s bowling unit of regular wickets while scoring at a good clip at the top. That was a victory in itself, and the Sri Lankan fans were happy to indulge their cricketers with copious bursts out of trumpets and off drum skins when their voices couldn’t keep up.
After winning the toss and electing to field, the Indians came out with a plan. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya started things off but they weren’t as effective as was expected of them. They did bowl a few good balls each over, but for every three good deliveries, they had three that were either short of drifting towards the leg stump.
In the face of such a wayward show, Niroshan Dickwella and Danushka Gunathilaka built the perfect base for Sri Lanka to put some pressure on the Indians. The opening pair understood that one end kept significantly lower than the other and played the waiting game. Their patience rewarded them with a 74-run opening stand.
Right at the start, however, Dickwella nicked the first ball of the game towards Rohit Sharma at second slip. The edge fell short, and the pair didn’t look back for a while after. The Indian spinners – Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel – were able to put the brakes on the scoring for a while after that, but then they strayed and let the duo pick up runs without a hassle.
Just then, Gunathilaka attempted to reverse sweep Chahal and ended up toe-lobbing the legspinner to KL Rahul at cover. There was potential for a mini-collapse right then as Kusal Mendis lived dangerously with his sweeps, but he hung in there.
At the other end, Dickwella was as calm as the hills around him. Kohli used up each of his four frontline bowlers and Pandya and Kedar Jadhav, but it was nothing the 24-year-old from Kandy couldn’t handle. Dickwella brought up his fifth ODI half-century from 65 balls and looked set for more. But on 64, perhaps inspired by Mendis, Dickwella picked the wrong Jadhav length for a scoop sweep and ended up trapped plumb in front of the stumps.
Sri Lanka were well placed on 139 for 2 at the stage and a defendable score going forward looked a possibility. What happened after, however, was nothing short of hara-kiri.
Soon after Mendis lost his stumps to a slider from Axar, Jadhav floated in a full toss that Upul Tharanga, the Sri Lanka captain, slapped right down Shikhar Dhawan’s throat at long-on.
Angelo Mathews and Chamara Kapugedara were expected to settle the rough waters, but a silly call from Kapugedara saw him lose in a dead sprint to Kohli before being run out by an underarm flick on to the stumps.
A lot has been made of Wanidu Hasaranga and the 20-year-old’s abilities, but he betrayed the plaudits with a foolish slog at a time when offering a dead bat was the best option.
With the lower order open for business India went about their job quickly, scalping the next two in quick time. Mathews, who has seen his share of Sri Lankan collapses, zoned in and kept the Indians at bay while he could. Lasith Malinga flickered but Chahal got a good measure of him by bowling one wide on spotting him charge out.
Bumrah ran in and broke Vishwa Fernando’s middle stump in half to bring an end to Sri Lanka’s misery. Mathews could only watch on helplessly, ending with an unbeaten 36.