How many would have expected Sri Lanka to beat India in this edition of the ICC Champions Trophy? Well, this was the least expected thing out of so many unpredictables. The Sri Lankan team, who is undergoing a rebuilding phase, was the least expected side to create an upset and that too against India. Sri Lankan batsmen hogged all the headlines on Friday morning for their valiant approach against the defending champions. The experienced Indian bowlers didn’t have enough answers to the belligerence of Sri Lankan batsmen. India have developed into a formidable unit and have worked immensely on their only chunk in the armour, which was bowling.
The likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami render bowling a joy to behold. The two immensely experienced spinners – Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have been the reason behind nightmares for many batsmen. India are a force to reckon with a developed and much strong bowling unit. But all the thoughts were disrupted and a doubt was created in everyone’s mind after the encounter against Sri Lanka. India went with the pace combo of Umesh, Bhuvneshwar, Bumrah and Pandya along with Jadeja as their lone spinner. Eventually, they were clearly short of an impactful bowler and probably cost them the game.
Indian bowlers looked bereft of oomph against the belligerence of a young and potent Sri Lankan side. Their bowlers did everything right before this game, they were outstanding in the two warm-up games and lived upto the expectations against Pakistan in their opening encounter. But somehow failed to deliver against Sri Lanka. This defeat for India has opened up the competition in the Group B with all the four teams standing an equal chance of qualifying for the semi-final. All the four teams – India, Pakistan Sri Lanka and South Africa have won and lost a game each. They are all scheduled to play one more game as per the fixture, which is a virtual quarter-final. The winner from these two games will advance to the semi-final and the intensity has just scaled newer heights.
Sri Lanka put up a perfect show with the bat after an ordinary exhibition with the ball to steal the show. After losing the first game against South Africa, Sri Lanka needed something extraordinary to keep themselves alive against the dominant Indian side. And they rightly did, their batsmen stepped up and scripted history by recording the highest successful run-chase in the history of Champions Trophy. Shikhar Dhawan batted wonderfully and continued his good form to steer India to a commanding position with his tenth One-Day International (ODI) ton. MS Dhoni also played a good hand, in the end, to ensure India had 321 runs on the board. Sri Lankan bowlers were rather ordinary with the ball and didn’t do anything of substance to contain the star-studded Indian line-up.
India had enough runs on the board but Sri Lankan batsmen just turned out to be too good on a particular day. It is often said, a team may have formidable names in their line-up and look invincible on paper but what matters is the performance on the field. And this is what happened with India; they had some match-winning names in their line-up but failed to perform. Not many expected Sri Lanka to make the cut, which means that they had the license to go for the kill as this was also a do-or-die game for them.
Chasing 322 against India was always going to be a challenge, Sri Lanka needed a solid start at the top but wasn’t fortunate to get one as the hard-hitting Niroshan Dickwella was dismissed for seven. They now needed a solid partnership in order to build a platform for the middle-order to capitalise. Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis confronted the in-form Indian attack with unmatched confidence, they not only confronted them with care but also kept the scoreboard ticking. They were astute enough to bid their time at the crease after which, they started shifting gears and kept the required run-rate under check.
Gunthilaka was scoring runs at brisk pace but made a big mistake of taking on the powerful arm of Umesh Yadav. In an attempt to sneak a double, Gunathilaka challenged Umesh Yadav, who got his throw dead right near the stumps into the safe hands on MS Dhoni. Sri Lanka were under pressure though but the foundation was laid. In came another powerful hitter of the cricket ball – Kusal Perera. Kusal Mendis looked good for a ton but, in a rush of blood, perhaps, he attempted to sneak a single off Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s bowling but the incredible athleticism of the right-arm bowler ended his run on 89.
Sri Lanka needed 126 runs from 104 deliveries after Mendis’ dismissal, which was quiet achievable considering the modern standards of the game. Angelo Mathews stepped up and took the responsibility of getting the job done. He played some beautiful strokes and was well supported by Kusal Perera from the other end. Perera showed aggression and played well for his 47 but was unfortunate to be retired hurt due to an injury. Sri Lanka had a lot of hiccups but didn’t give up. Two run-outs and then a retired hurt, but were not short of confidence.
Asela Gunaratne was brought in as a replacement for Chamara Kapugedara and the potent right-hander justified his selection in style. He improvised well and carried the side over the line with a crucial cameo of an unbeaten 34 from 21 deliveries. When Gunaratne swept Jasprit Bumrah for a six in the 46th over, most of India’s hopes of winning the game were undoubtedly shattered. Sri Lanka chased the target with ease in the 49th over, Mathew and Gunaratne remained unconquered as their side scripted history. The fact that the Indian bowlers managed to pick just a solitary wicket with the ball while defending 322, speaks about the domination Sri Lanka had over them.
Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar have been magnificent in the death overs, but Gunaratne and Mathews did well to counter-attack it. Sri Lanka have their next game scheduled against Pakistan and if they manage to put up a similar performance, it will only lit up the tournament further. As of now, they have a solid win to cherish and have done extremely well to achieve it.