Deepak Hooda and Axar Patel’s final flurry gave India a respectable, if not fighting, total. A largely inexperienced pace attack - led by debutant Shivam Mavi - then barely managed to defend it and help India start the New Year on a winning note.
Riding on the trio’s stellar show, India opened the three-match T20I series against Sri Lanka with a two-run win at the Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday night.
Despite both the top-orders failing to fire, the all-rounders shone bright and ensured a thrilling end to the game. Axar was entrusted with the responsibility of defending 12 runs in the last over. Chamika Karunaratne did clear the mid-wicket fence but a couple of dot balls outside the off-stump and a change of angle off the last ball meant India gave the fans a reason to rejoice.
Ishan Kishan started the night by tonking 17 runs off Kasun Rajitha’s first over. But unorthodox spinner Maheesh Theekshana and left-arm pacer Dilshan Madushanka justified their captain Dasun Shanaka’s decision to field.
In fact, with the Lankans picking wickets regularly, when India captain Hardik Pandya nicked Madushanka behind off the first ball of the 15th over, India at 94 for five was in danger of being restricted to a below-par total.
Hooda and Axar then swung the pendulum in India’s favour with an unbroken association of 68 runs off just 35 balls. While Hooda started the onslaught with successive sixes off Theekshana in the 16th, Axar joined the party by dispatching Madushanka into the stands in the penultimate over.
The duo ended the innings on a high, adding 28 runs in the last two overs to help India cross the 160-run mark.
On a ground that’s tailor-made for chasing, India had to strike early. Mavi, earning a debut with Arshdeep Singh unavailable for selection, did exactly that. In his first over, the pacer swung one back in to sneak through the defence of Pathum Nissanka. In his next over, Dhananjaya de Silva top-edged Mavi to Sanju Samson at mid-on, who had earlier dropped one off captain Hardik in the first over.
Umran Malik’s introduction meant Kusal Mendis and Charith Asalanka were glued to the backfoot, with the speedster’s pace too hot to handle. In his second over, Asalanka top-edged a pull and Ishan ran all the way to deep fine-leg and lunged to his right to take an excellent catch.
Harshal Patel struck twice in the middle to help India be in control. But captain Shanaka’s cameo kept Sri Lanka in the hunt. Wanindu Hasaranga’s back-to-back slog sweeps to clear the fence off Yuzvendra Chahal gave the Lankans a glimmer of hope.
But Mavi’s reintroduction saw him account for Hasaranga. When Shanaka found Chahal at covers off Umran in the 17th over, the writing was on the wall. Karunaratne though brought Sri Lanka into the game yet again. But it wasn’t enough.