One hundred and ten minutes – that’s how long Sri Lanka were competitive against India in the opening One-Day International of the five-match series.
It was not good enough, certainly not when they were looking to revive the fortunes of a side in a slump of unprecedented lows. The outcome of a show that meek was a nine-wicket rout at Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium on Sunday (August 20). India responded to Sri Lanka’s 216 all out with 220 for 1 from 28.5 overs – and that’s how winning is done.
After Axar Patel and the rest of the bowling unit broke Sri Lanka’s spine, Shikhar Dhawan led the way with the bat with a brutal unbeaten 132 from 90 balls and Virat Kohli marked his return to the venue of his international debut with a ruthless 82 not out from 70 balls.
The final score suggests a one-sided drubbing. It was that, but unlike in the Test series that India swept 3-0, Sri Lanka had something to offer their fans on this occasion.
That period – at the beginning of the Sri Lankan innings – was the only resistance India faced all day. At the start of the game, the tempo was slipping out of India’s usually firm grip, but they didn’t panic and switch to Plan B. Keeping cool, courtesy Kohli and MS Dhoni, they made the necessary bowling changes along the way and set batsman-specific fields to set the victory up.
— Sri Lanka Cricket (@OfficialSLC) August 20, 2017
On a flat track of this nature, India would have preferred chasing, and for the fourth time in succession since landing in Sri Lanka, Kohli got it right, and brought the Sri Lankan openers out.
Kohli may have begun to question his decision in the wake of Sri Lanka’s opening partnership between Niroshan Dickwella and Danushka Gunathilaka, but as the openers rode the wave, he worked his options without showing his displeasure with the situation.
Kohli knew that the soft underbelly that is Sri Lanka’s middle order wasn’t far from the sword, but for that, he needed to get past the surface, which was proving to be harder than expected.
In the Test series, Dimuth Karunaratne and Upul Tharanga partnered each other for a total of 65 runs in six innings. In this innings alone, the opening alliance fetched 74 runs in 13.5 overs. The home fans were so delighted that some went so far as heckling the spattering of Indians in the crowd.
Not many, perhaps, believed Sri Lanka could win, and yet for a fleeting while, Dickwella and Gunathilaka showed that there was reason to hope.
The ride lasted before Gunathilaka attempted a reverse sweep and ended up toe-ending the ball to KL Rahul at cover off Yuzvendra Chahal for 35. The crowd cheered the arrival of Kusal Mendis, and the right-hander repaid with some stunning strokes to reach 36 from 37 balls. At the other end, Dickwella remained a picture of calm, not going out of the way to create shots.
Sri Lanka’s cause was helped along by India’s bowlers straying in their lines and lengths for the first half of the innings. They were either short and wide or they drifted into the stumps far too often. Ten wides in the innings is a good a reflection of how far off the mark they were.
Despite that, neither Kohli nor Dhoni shot a look at their off-colour bowlers in anger. Dhoni worked out the field placements with minute adjustments for each batsman, while Kohli kept an eye on rotating the bowlers. After going through Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah and Chahal without the desired results, Kohli brought on Kedar Jadhav and Axar from either end.
Jadhav struck with the scalp of Dickwella, trapping the left-hander in front of the stumps as he premeditated and went through with the scoop sweep. Axar was next to strike as fired in a slider to squeeze between the charging feet and clueless bat of Mendis.
Two wickets within 11 runs wasn’t ideal, but with 150 runs on the board by the 28th over, Sri Lanka knew that a good stand could see them near the 300-run mark.
What happened after, however, was nothing short of hara-kiri. Sri Lanka lost their next seven wickets for 66 runs. Those numbers would have looked far worse had Angelo Mathews not decided to take matters into his own hands and get them past 200 with an unbeaten 36.
Axar Patel is bowling a wonderful little spell here. Nice variations in pace and gives you no room
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) August 20, 2017
However, within an hour it was evident that Mathews’s innings would be a footnote at best.
From the time Rohit Sharma and Dhawan laid bat to ball, the Indian batsmen operated on a different dimension. With the pitch behaving cordially, they got in position well in advance and played the ball under their eyes.
The only way either of them could have been dismissed was a run out, and Rohit gifted it to Sri Lanka. After tapping the ball towards point, Rohit set off for an easy single but he had his eyes on the fielder the entire time. Chamara Kapugedera fired a throw and caught Rohit’s bat hovering in the air above the crease after it got stuck in the pitch.
That error brought Kohli to the crease, and things weren’t quite as silly after that.
With Dhawan scoring at will – he had raced to 50 from 36 balls with eight fours and a six – Kohli knew his job was to sit back, rotate the strike and watch the left-hander open up in a way only he can.
Dhawan didn’t disappoint. He raced to his 11th ODI century from 71 balls with 16 fours and two sixes. The symmetry to the century was as unmistakable as it was powerful. Kohli was no quiet bystander either, smashing his 44th ODI half-century in as many balls.
It was all too easy, and the home fans probably went home thinking ‘oh, no….not again!’