A domineering show

Skipper Angelo Mathews top scored for Sri Lanka.-AP

India turned in yet another resounding performance to pummel the opponent by eight wickets and cruise into the final. Ishant Sharma and R. Ashwin took three wickets apiece to limit Sri Lanka to a below-par 181 before Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli made a mockery of the target, writes Shreedutta Chidananda.

In the lead up to India’s clash with Sri Lanka in the ICC Champions Trophy, much of the talk had been of the weather. There had been two glorious days of sun ahead of the game but the forecast for the day itself had been dreadful.

But in the end, there was no abandonment, no curtailment, and no Duckworth-Lewis. The only downpour, instead, was the one that washed Sri Lanka away.

India turned in yet another resounding performance to pummel the opponent by eight wickets and cruise into the final. Ishant Sharma and R. Ashwin took three wickets apiece to limit Sri Lanka to a below-par 181 before Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli made a mockery of the target.

A fresh pitch was used on the occasion and with a grey haze hanging over the Cardiff Wales Stadium, India’s quicker bowlers tied Sri Lanka up in knots. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, as is now his habit, struck early, dispatching Kusal Perera in only his second over.

Perera’s opening partner Tillakaratne Dilshan had looked in good touch during his 21-ball stay at the crease, when he slammed two boundaries off Umesh Yadav. His time at the wicket, however, was cut short by injury. Attempting a run, Dilshan twitched a calf muscle and, soon, hobbled off.

It set the batting side back immediately. Sri Lanka struggled to raise the scoring rate as Kumar Sangakkara and Lahiru Thirimanne were thoroughly tested by Kumar. The UP bowler caused Sangakkara considerable bother around the off-stump, moving the ball just enough to sow seeds of doubt in the batsman’s mind.

But Sri Lanka survived Kumar’s examination. Instead, to India’s delight, it was Ishant that rediscovered his touch. The bowler, whose supposed lack of fortune has for so long been offered as an excuse, has never been the force he once was. But there was at least some spark. Ishant’s height affords him the advantage of landing the ball further up than his colleagues and still extracting good bounce. The 24-year-old thrived on this wicket, luring Sangakkara and Thirimanne into identical prods outside the off-stump. Suresh Raina did extremely well to hold both catches at second slip.

The pitch did indeed have some life but nobody was quite prepared for M. S. Dhoni’s introduction of himself as the fourth seamer.

“It was still doing a bit. Bhuvneshwar had already bowled eight or nine overs and we had to keep overs of the fast bowlers for the death so we were not left with many options,” he said later. “The only two options were Virat (Kohli) and me, so I said ‘let’s give it a go and even if I bowl badly, one over I can bowl and I can come back’. It went off pretty well so I thought ‘let’s bowl two or three and keep Ashwin for the death’.”

Dhoni, who had only bowled once before in ODIs, dismissing Travis Dowlin of the West Indies in the 2009 Champions Trophy, sent down four overs and momentarily even thought that he had taken a wicket. Mahela Jayawardena had been ruled out leg-before by Aleem Dar but the decision was overturned on review.

The Sri Lankan captain Angelo Mathews top scored with 51, adding 78 runs for the fourth wicket with Jayawardena, but that was as good as it got for the islanders. It was Ravindra Jadeja, as usual, who snapped the alliance, bowling the latter out for 38. Ashwin then removed Mathews before bowling Jeevan Mendis around his pads with a leg-spinner. From 119 for three in 36 overs, Sri Lanka could only manage 181. Umesh sent down a couple of maidens, as India kept things tight in the Powerplay.

There was little to say of India’s run-chase, untroubled as it was. Dhawan and Rohit Sharma set off in haste, driving Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara to the cover boundary repeatedly. Things slowed down after a point, Rohit surrendering his wicket in the most pitiful fashion and Kohli taking time to get his eye in. But once he did, nothing could save Sri Lanka. He pulled Kulasekara to the leg-side boundary before raising his fifty with a fierce six off Mendis. Suresh Raina, promoted ahead of Dinesh Karthik to perhaps earn a feel of things in the middle, scored the winning runs.

From India’s perspective, the win seemed only natural, Dhoni’s young team marching into the final with unassailable confidence. For Sri Lanka, whose appearance here was its sixth time in the knockouts in the last eight global tournaments, there was again disappointment, its run without a major trophy still going back to 2002.

Mathews had spoken of forgetting the 2011 World Cup final and the 2012 WorldT20 final and at last securing a title but it wasn’t to be.

“We’re definitely disappointed,” he admitted. “The entire nation is also disappointed but at the same time it shows we are doing well. We can’t be happy (merely reaching the semi-finals). Our objective was to enter the final.”

THE SCORES India v Sri Lanka, Cardiff, June 20, 2013.

Sri Lanka: K. Perera c Raina b Kumar 4; T. Dilshan (not out) 18; K. Sangakkara c Raina b Ishant 17; L. Thirimanne c Raina b Ishant 7; M. Jayawardena b Jadeja 38; A. Mathews c Kumar b Ashwin 51; J. Mendis st. Dhoni b Ashwin 25; T. Perera c Dhawan b Ishant 0; N. Kulasekara b Ashwin 1; L. Malinga (not out) 7; Extras (lb-2, w-11) 13. Total (for eight wkts., in 50 overs) 181.

Fall of wickets: 1-6, 1-17* (Dilshan, retd., not out), 2-36, 3-41, 4-119, 5-158, 6-160, 7-164, 8-171.

India bowling: Kumar 9-2-18-1; Yadav 8-2-30-0; Ishant 9-1-33-3; Jadeja 10-1-33-1; Dhoni 4-0-17-0; Ashwin 10-1-48-3.

India: R. Sharma b Mathews 33; S. Dhawan st. Sangakkara b Mendis 68; V. Kohli (not out) 58; S. Raina (not out) 7; Extras (b-1, lb-5, w-10) 16. Total (for two wkts., in 35 overs) 182.

Fall of wickets: 1-77, 2-142.

Sri Lanka bowling: Kulasekara 10-0-45-0; Malinga 8-0-54-0; T. Perera 6-0-25-0; Mathews 4-0-10-1; Herath 4-0-14-0; Mendis 3-0-28-1.