India 220 for 1 (Dhawan 132*, Kohli 82*) beat Sri Lanka 216 (Dickwella 64, Axar 3-34, Jadhav 2-26) by nine wickets
For half of their innings, Sri Lanka really did look like a side that wanted to bat first, as their captain had said at the toss. For the rest of it, each player was lapping the other back to the pavilion. From 139 for 1 in the 25th over, they careened to 216 all out, collapsing in a heap to the considerable wiles of… Kedar Jadhav. The part-timer – who has previously been brought on as a last resort – was indecipherable… bowling non-turning offbreaks. Considering only weird things were happening in this match, there was a fair shout that India would muck up a straightforward chase. But that’s when normal service resumed.
Shikhar Dhawan struck his sixth successive fifty-plus score against Sri Lanka and carried on to make his fastest ODI hundred, off 71 balls. He alone hit more boundaries (23) than the entire opposition (20), pulling merrily, cutting anything he deemed short, and reverse-sweeping if only to feel the rush of a proper contest. He was the bulldozer and Sri Lanka were a helpless, dilapidated old building.
At the other end was Virat Kohli, racking up 82 fairly soft runs to seal a nine-wicket victory with a whopping 21.1 overs to spare. The only mishap of the innings happened when Rohit Sharma, in his first innings as vice-captain, lost control of his bat and was run out for 4 because both his feet were in the air despite crossing the crease.
As bizarre as that was, little that could compete with the antics of the Sri Lankan batsman. They had looked good to score 300, then promptly lost nine wickets for 77 runs.
Jadhav took out the half-centurion Niroshan Dickwella and the captain Upul Tharanga and faded into the background so his team-mates could have a little fun. Axar Patel took the opportunity and in his first match of the tour picked up 3 for 34 in 10 overs.
That meant a crowd of 14,514 in Dambulla – several wearing fancy dresses, more than a few sporting trumpets, all of them adding to a raucous atmosphere – kept scratching their heads, wondering how on earth fingerspin had become relevant in one-day cricket again.
The Champions Trophy had proven a few things – wickets in the middle overs matter and wristspinners are an excellent source of them. And on Sunday too, the first one that came India’s way was the result of a legspinner’s work. A well-set Danushka Gunathilaka played a reverse sweep to the new bowler Yuzvendra Chahal to then be caught at cover. The flabbergasted look of the catcher KL Rahul summed up what a weird moment that was in the game.
Fine, that’s only one man down. Sri Lanka still had Dickwella, playing a smart knock, typically moving around in his crease, whipping balls into the leg side like his mother had forbidden him from thinking about a straight drive. For as many as 15 overs, he scored only one run in front of the wicket on the off side. Some of that can be explained by his preference for the leg side. He played a couple of pick-up shots over long-on and midwicket that were jaw-dropping. India’s fast bowlers, too, didn’t really give him too many balls in his half of the pitch, sensing the new ball wasn’t swinging, and immediately resorting to tucking him up or messing up his timing with slower balls.
Having weathered them all with admirable patience, he then fell lbw to a straight ball from Jadhav. It was an anti-climax of epic proportions. Not least because it came as a result of the lap sweep, a shot he plays superbly well, but on this occasion did not account for the quicker delivery. For good measure, he also burned the only review Sri Lanka had in the innings.
Through it all, Jadhav could well have thrown his head and laughed. There is no mystery to him. He simply doesn’t give the batsman any pace to work with, and demands them to hit him, hard, if they want boundaries. That happens best with cross-bat shots. But the problem is he also makes balls keep relatively low, especially with his slingy action and that allows him to sneak under the bat swing. None of these nuances were necessary for the wickets he took though. Dickwella played a poor shot and Tharanga sent a high full toss into long-on’s hands.
Axar troubled Sri Lanka the other way – with extra pace. He bowled Kusal Mendis, who looked the best of the batsmen, moving his feet decisively and working the field brilliantly, with a ball clocked at 104 kph, one the batsman never saw coming as he charged out of his crease. With the pitch just slow enough, and the boundaries large enough, hitting through the line was not a straightforward option. Axar capitalised on it with his clever changes of pace and steadfast accuracy. Most of his balls were fast, fullish and always at the stumps. He and Jadhav got through 15 overs for 60 runs and four wickets. India then blitzed through the tail, allowing no batsman below Angelo Mathews, at No. 5, to enter double-digits.
On a night when the visitors’ second-string spin attack made sure they did not feel the absence of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja – or even Kuldeep Yadav who was their best bowler in the Caribbean last month – not one of the Sri Lanka bowlers could pick up a wicket. It was just that kind of day.