Written by Bella Dalima
28 Feb, 2014 | 9:45 pm
India’s new-look middle-order had its first serious test in the absence of vastly experienced trio of MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh, and it stuttered badly against Sri Lanka’s spinners.
Ajantha Mendis, completing a three-man spin attack on a low-and-slow surface, got the wickets of the two batsmen who spent time in the middle, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, as India’s innings unraveled in the death to leave a target of 265.
India’s openers took a while to come to terms the lack of pace and bounce, with Rohit Sharma crouching after the first ball hit low on the blade, and India making only three from the first three overs. There were plenty of edges as well, and though Dhawan cashed in on a few wide deliveries, Rohit perished in the 10th over, unhappy at being given lbw when he was well out of the crease.
That brought on the best phase of India’s innings, as Kohli and Dhawan put on a 97-run stand. Even Kohli, who has racked up an ODI record to envy in recent years, didn’t find it easy early on. Still, both batsmen worked the singles to make sure the pressure never built up.
Dhawan was uncharacteristically subdued, hitting only seven fours and a six in his 94 – far fewer boundaries than you would expect from a naturally aggressive batsman. As the partnership with Kohli built up, Dhawan opened out against the medium-pace of Thisara Perera launching a six and four in an over. With Kohli also looking increasingly solid, India have moved along to 130 for 1 in the 27th over, and India’s early troubles were forgotten.
That was when Mendis delivered a carrom ball that zipped away to take Kohli’s leg-stump. Besides knocking out India’s top batsman, that delivery also tempered Dhawan, who didn’t hit a boundary for another nine overs. Ajinkya Rahane, who had shrugged off a poor ODI run in New Zealand with a half-century against Bangladesh, began fluently before holing out attempting his favourite shot, the loft over extra cover.
Dhawan, who largely resisted the temptation to go for the big hit right till the end, missed out on a century when another Mendis carrom ball crashed into his middle stump. That wicket in the 40th over meant Ambati Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik, neither of whom are certainties in the XI, had to shepherd the team in the final ten. Both fluffed it: Karthik lasting only three balls as he miscued to mid-off, and Rayudu picking out the man at long-off as he chipped Chaturanga de Silva.
Sri Lanka backed up the bowlers with some top fielding, throwing themselves around in the deep to make several sliding stops and also hitting the stumps several times from close-in. Lasith Malinga fired in his yorkers towards the death, and though a couple of mighty hits from No. 11 Mohammed Shami took India to 264, it seemed an insufficient total, especially given India’s thin bowling.
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