Pallekele: Virat Kohli, imperious and unstoppable, turned on the style as he often has on this tour of Sri Lanka, as India sealed their dominance with a convincing victory in the one-off Twenty20 International.
India were well below their best in front of a capacity crowd at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium – the stands were packed, the grass banks heavily populated and a few thousands hung around outside the ground – especially in the field as there was more than the odd misfield and two relatively simple catches put down.
Sri Lanka, however, didn`t have the fortitude to make the most of their mistakes, finding India`s competitive but by no means intimidating 155 for three too hard to overcome. India bowled with reasonable discipline despite the massive lack of experience, skittling Sri Lanka for 116 to run out victors by 39 runs, and this despite posting their lowest T20I total against Sri Lanka in five attempts.
The margin wasn`t undeserved. India were clearly the superior side despite their mistakes in the field, and their freshness helped, too, when it came to handling the tight situations. After Kohli`s sparkling strokeplay had given them a total that would take some getting, Irfan Pathan continued his dream run by knocking over the Sri Lankan top-order during a first spell of 3 for 16, and Ashok Dinda hastened the end by picking up three wickets in the 18th over on his way to incredible figures of 3-1-19-4.
Sri Lanka were only briefly in the hunt when Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Mathews added 33 for the fourth wicket to follow up on Mahela Jayawardene`s brilliant cameo. Thirimanne, inexplicably, attempted a reverse sweep against R Ashwin`s first delivery, made no contact and was bowled.
With his loss, the fight seemed to go out of the Sri Lankan batting. Mathews did try his best, but Dinda had him caught behind off a widish delivery and Manoj Tiwary produced a brilliant pick-up and throw from point to run out Thisara Perera, the last post of attack.
The evening had started brightly for Sri Lanka under dark clouds, Gautam Gambhir falling to Shaminda Eranga, the debutant paceman, in his first over. Eranga thus became the first bowler to take a wicket in his first over in all three forms of the game internationally, but that was about the only joy Sri Lanka had as Kohli went into overdrive.
The boundaries flowed off his blade even as Ajinkya Rahane watched from the non-striker`s end, totally transfixed. Kohli hardly hit a shot in anger in the early part of his essay, relying on sheer timing, as he hit nine fours off his first 19 deliveries faced. Sri Lanka were clueless; reasonably decent deliveries were despatched to the fence with total nonchalance and the bad ones were punished ruthlessly as Kohli surged past his maiden T20I fifty, in just 32 deliveries.
Kohli totally dominated the second-wicket stand of 74 with Rahane, and when he was in full cry, India appeared headed for a total in the 180s. However, with the arrival of spin, things slowed down, and when Kohli fell to Eranga caught in the deep in trying to get a move on, India lost a bit of momentum.
Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni did throw their bats around, but the final push didn`t materialise. India had made 49 between overs 11 and 15; the last five yielded just 36, but that was almost immaterial, given the commanding authority with which victory was attained in the end. The victory took India from No. 7 to No. 4 in the International Cricket Council`s T20I rankings.
BDST: 1832 HRS, August 8, 2012
Chanchal Ghosh, Newsroom Editor
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