Thakur, Pandey power India to victory

Monday was about two comebacks from Team India: first with the ball, then with the bat. And, in the end, Rohit Sharma & Co. registered a facile win over Sri Lanka to occupy the top spot on the points table in the Nidahas Trophy tri-series.

Both sides were left frustrated because of a 95-minute rain delay at the R Premadasa Stadium. And after Sharma asked the Sri Lankans to take first strike in the crucial encounter, the home team’s top order responded well. But some smart bowling from Shardul Thakur, who picked up the Man of the Match award for his 4/27, and Washington Sundar (2/21) helped India restrict Lanka to 152/9 in the 19-overs-a-side affair. India’s chase began on an inopportune note, with openers Sharma and Dhawan both back in the hut inside four overs. But some responsible batting from Manish Pandey (42 not out, 31 balls, 3x4, 1x6) and his undefeated 68-run partnership with Dinesh Karthik (39 not out, 25 balls, 5x4) took India home.

Sri Lanka were well on their way to posting a massive total, but the Indian bowlers held their nerve and dished out a disciplined performance in the middle overs. That effectively changed the course of the match. Sri Lanka couldn’t have asked for a better start as they scored 15 runs in the opening over bowled by Jaydev Unadkat. Danushka Gunathalika and Kusal Mendis looked threatening and it needed a special effort in the field to turn things around. Suresh Raina provided that moment of brilliance by pouching a blinder at mid-wicket to get rid of Gunathilaka. Young offie Sundar then entered the wickets column by dismissing the in-form Kusal Perera cheaply. It was the third time that the southpaw fell prey to the Chennai-lad. The runs were coming thick and fast for Sri Lanka but two of their players were back in the hut. The hosts continued to take the attack to the opposition and at the end of Powerplay they were 53/2.

The fall of wickets didn’t impact the flow of runs as Upul Tharanga and Kusal Mendis played smartly and found the boundary at regular intervals. The duo added 62 runs for the third wicket and kept the scoreboard ticking by playing their shots. The hosts were scoring at a run rate of nearly 10 and were placed at 94/2 at the halfway mark. Vijay Shankar came to captain Rohit Sharma’s rescue and dismissed Tharanga with an angled-in cross-seam delivery in the 11th over but India’s woes didn’t end there as new man Thisara Perera came out all guns blazing and started off by hitting two huge sixes off the seamer.

Sri Lanka were on the attack and the crowd was thoroughly enjoying the proceedings. In the process, Mendis brought up his fourth T20I half-century and his first against India. However, Perera failed to capitalise on his good start and was out off the next delivery. India made a comeback of sorts by getting rid of Jeevan Mendis in the next over. Sundar had his second of the night.

Things got worse for the hosts when their set batsman, Mendis, was dismissed by Yuzvendra Chahal in the next over. It was a mini-collapse for Sri Lanka and their run-rate dropped. They never really recovered from that blip and could only manage 32 runs in the last five overs. Thakur was the pick of the bowlers for India as he picked up his career-best figures of 4/27 and became the second bowler after Yuzvendra Chahal to pick up a four-for for India in T20Is.

The Men in Blue needed to chase down a tricky total to win their first match against the hosts in the tri-series and they were off to a poor start as both the openers were picked up by Akila Dananjaya inside 19 deliveries. It was down to KL Rahul, who was playing his first match of the tournament, and Suresh Raina to bail India out of trouble. Raina looked positive and scored a quickfire 27 off 15 balls, but it wasn’t enough. He was looking good and timed the ball well. Alas, he couldn’t bat through.

Rahul then became the first Indian to be hit-wicket in T20Is. And then Manish Pandey rose to the occasion. He looked fluent and, together with Karthik, ensured that the team didn’t lose its way.
India will next face Bangladesh on March 14 in their final league match of the tri-series.



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