India shrugged off their recent run of bad form as they notched up a spirit-lifting victory against Sri Lanka in the second game of the Asia Cup at Mirpur.
The win was courtesy of an all round performance by the Indian squad, who have been in the spotlight recently due to deteriorating team chemistry, caused by their early exit at the Commonwealth Bank series in Australia.
Virat Kohli, who played a crucial batting role in the victory, said: “To be able to adjust so quickly from Australia is very satisfying because of the different conditions.”
Sri Lanka Captain, Mahela Jayawardene, won the toss and decided to bowl first, stating that he felt batting would become easier later in the day.
The Indian openers, Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar, walked out to the crease, hoping to get their team off to an excellent start.
However, this was not to be the case, as Tendulkar was the first batsman to depart, falling victim to a tempting full toss after making just six runs.
Sri Lanka believed that they now had India on the ropes after removing one of their veteran batsmen, however, they did not anticipate what the two youngsters, Gambhir and Virat Kohli, had in store for them.
Gambhir and Kohli started to rebuild the Indian innings in superb fashion, calling for runs efficiently, while hitting the odd boundary when the chance presented itself.
The pair’s growing partnership started to take their toll on the Sri Lankan fielders, with many costly misfields, and Gambhir was lucky to survive when he was dropped by Dinesh Chandimal on 36, causing Captain Jayawardene to get extremely infuriated.
Soon enough, both Gambhir and Kohli had brought up their half centuries and showed no signs of slowing down.
With the continuous flow of runs, the Sri Lankan bowlers were starting to get demoralised, and Jayawardene was trying to find a way to break the partnership before it really got out of hand.
But, the batsmen had an answer for everything that Jayawardene threw at them and soon both Gambhir and Kohli were within striking distance of making a century.
However, when Gambhir was on 94, he called for a quick single and was almost halfway down the pitch when Chandimal, who had a chance to make up for his dropped catch, missed the stumps and Gambhir was granted yet another lifeline.
He took full advantage of it and brought up his 10th ODI century. To add insult to injury, Kohli also brought up his 10th century immediately after.
Kohli set a record for becoming the fastest player to reach 10 ODI centuries in just 80 innings, the previous record belonging to West Indian batting legend Gordon Greenidge, who accomplished it in 99 innings.
Kohli, who was given the Man of the Match award for his incredible innings and breaking Greenidge’s record, said: “We [Gautam and I] have got a lot of big stands between us. We understand each others’ games really well. We don’t have to tell each other what to do. It is very satisfying when the wicket is slow, you have to control your urge to hit a boundary and take the singles.”
Sri Lanka were finally given a break when Gambhir holed out right after making his century and, to make matters worse for India, Kohli was dismissed in the same over trying to clear the boundary, but found the fielder instead. The pair put together an unbelievable 205 run partnership, which gave India a good chance of setting a huge total.
With both centurions back in the pavilion, Suresh Raina and Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni did not allow Sri Lanka to get back into the game, as they started to attack the bowling lineup and put together an explosive partnership, much to the delight of the Indian fans.
Raina and Dhoni used the few remaining overs to push India towards a total of 300, as they absolutely hammered boundary after boundary, leaving the Sri Lankans in tatters.
India finally ended on a total of 304, thanks to a massive six off the last ball of the innings by Raina. Dhoni ended the innings unbeaten on 46 from just 26 deliveries, while Raina was undefeated on 30 runs off 17 balls.
Farveez Maharoof was the only Sri Lankan bowler to strike twice, removing both Gambhir and Kohli in the same over, while Suranga Lakmal claimed the early wicket of Tendulkar.
Facing a daunting task of chasing 305, the Sri Lankan openers, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Captain Mahela Jayawardene went on the offensive right from the start of their innings, but, with the amount of risks they were taking, it was no surprise when Dilshan fell early in the chase.
Jayawardene and wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara steadied the innings for Sri Lanka with some quality strikes and good running between the wickets.
The Indians were kept under pressure from both batsmen and tried everything in their power to remove them as early as they could, but, once both batsmen were settled at the crease, the chances of that happening diminished rapidly.
With their continuous onslaught, Sangakkarra and Jayawardene blew past the fifty partnership mark and continued on, in order to give the team some hope of reaching their target.
However, just as Sri Lanka were cruising, Jayawardene was unlucky to be dismissed off a poor delivery by Irfan Pathan, pulling the ball straight to Virat Kohli, who made no mistake with the catch. Jayawardene made 78 runs from only 59 balls.
All of a sudden, India got a new spark of hope, as they kept the bowling tight and limited the number of runs Sri Lanka got. This tactic worked in frustrating the batsmen and Dinesh Chandimal was bowled after trying to go for a big heave.
Sangakkara put together a sensible 44 run partnership with new batsman, Lahiru Thirimanne, as he tried to carry the weight of the team on his shoulders.
However, the task proved to be too much for him as he was caught out after attempting a big shot to lower the required run rate.
Once Sangakkara was dismissed, the Sri Lankan batting lineup crumbled under the pressure of the Indian bowling and soon enough, India were amongst the tail of the batting order.
The last remaining batsmen tried their best to guide Sri Lanka home, but, with wicket after wicket falling, they were soon bundled out, losing the game by 50 runs.
Irfan Pathan was the pick of the Indian bowlers, taking an impressive four wickets. He was well supported by teammates, Ravichandran Ashwin and Vinay Kumar, who both snapped up three wickets each.
Captain Mahela Jayawardene, was less than impressed with the performance of his team. “When you are chasing something like that, the guys who get starts have to finish off. Pretty bad shot from me. We chased really well, nothing wrong with the wicket. We needed to finish the chase which we did not do. Initially they set it up nicely with Gautam and Virat. I thought we gave away 15-20 runs more, it is difficult to bowl to Dhoni and Raina, our fielding could have been better too” he said.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, on the other hand, was relieved to be back on the winning side, and said: “It was difficult at that time when Mahela was batting well. The wicket changed a bit, it came onto the bat better and they were able to play their shots. Praveen was having an off day then, they took Jadeja for runs, so I was actually two bowlers short at that time. And had to get the part-timers in. But Praveen came back well, and Irfan and Vinay supported him well. There were not many boundaries in the Virat-Gautam partnership but they did well to set up a base. It is a tough ground to defend with quick outfield.”
With this important victory, India will look to continue making a statement to the rest of the teams when they play Bangladesh on the 16th of March at Dhaka. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, will be looking to put this tough loss behind them and focus on winning their game against Pakistan, which will also be played at Dhaka on the 15th of March.