Defying the odds, Sri Lanka stuns India

This may be a team in transition but a timid one, it is not. Sri Lanka pulled off a sensational seven-wicket victory over India in the ICC Champions Trophy here on Thursday, defying the odds with a splendid batting performance at the Oval.

Angelo Matthews celebrates Sri Lanka’s win over India in London on Thursday.   -  Getty Images

 

This may be a team in transition but a timid one, it is not. Sri Lanka pulled off a sensational seven-wicket victory over India in the ICC Champions Trophy here on Thursday, defying the odds with a splendid batting performance at the Oval. After India, the defending champion and the overwhelming favourite here, had made 321 – due in no small part to a hundred from Shikhar Dhawan – Sri Lanka hit back.

Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis made a pair of untroubled half-centuries before they were run out. India felt it had a foot in the door but Kusal Perera and Angelo Mathews held firm. Asela Gunaratne then played a series of outrageous shots as Sri Lanka crossed the line with eight balls to spare. The result suddenly makes things interesting in Group B, with all four teams on two points. India sorely felt the absence of another genuine bowler, giving Virat Kohli much cause for concern ahead of the final round-robin game against South Africa here on Sunday. A fixture India has to win to advance to semifinals.

Full scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Niroshan Dickwella fell early in the run chase but Gunatilaka and Mendis batted sensibly and responsibly, adding 159 runs (139 balls) for the second wicket. They avoided risk, rotated the strike, and found the boundary when they needed to. Gunatilaka was not even part of the squad until 24 hours ago, when Chamara Kapugedera injured his knee during fielding practice. Asked to open here, the 26-year-old made a career-best 76, displaying no fear or nerves. He dismissed Hardik Pandya over mid-wicket to raise his half century and later cut and reverse-swept Jadeja.

At the other end, Mendis demonstrated why he is held in such high regard in Sri Lanka, unfurling a number of delightful shots. Pandya dropped him off his own bowling on 24 – the ball was struck hard, it must be said – and he made India pay. Mendis soon brought up his fifty with a six, using his feet to Jadeja and carting him over the leg-side, and later smashed Pandya for a hat-trick of fours.

India's bowling had not been tested against Pakistan but came under much strain here. Sri Lanka identified Hardik Pandya (7-0-51-0) and Ravindra Jadeja (6-0-52-0) as the weak links and went after them. Pandya has pace but is not a bowler who troubles batsmen. In the absence of R. Ashwin, Kohli is left hoping that he can get a few quiet overs out of the Baroda all-rounder. But when he comes under fire, the captain does not have too many alternatives.

Kohli turned to the part-time off-spin of Kedar Jadhav and later brought himself on. The captain, bowling after more than a year, did not get a wicket, but played a part in India's breakthrough. Gunatilaka pushed the ball into the leg-side and set off for a double. Umesh Yadav chased the ball down from square leg, fired in a throw and Dhoni caught the batsman short. Not long after, there was another run-out, when Bhuvneshwar Kumar fielded off Kusal Perera in his follow through and hurled the stumps down to catch Mendis short. India rejoiced but Mathews was determined.

The Sri Lanka captain made a solid, unbeaten 52 to steer the team home. His partnership of 75 runs (63b) with Kusal Perera was interrupted when the latter retired hurt with what appeared to be a hamstring complaint. But Gunaratne was on hand to ensure there would be no late mishap.

Earlier, Dhawan scored his 10th one-day ton, building a second straight century partnership with Rohit Sharma to give India a firm start after Mathews had won the toss and elected to field first. Dhawan appears to love batting in this part of the world. From 11 matches in the United Kingdom, he now averages 79, with three hundreds and three fifties to his name. India may have been guilty of going slow in the first 10 overs but a quick half century from Dhoni at the death hauled India past 300. It would not prove enough, though.

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