For the last few years, the broadcasters have taken a liking to show the progression of a game through session pies. Usually, it is a subjective and often a banal exercise that inevitably results in the side dominating the most session pies winning the game. However, on the day when the relation between its distribution and the actual result was a contradiction to common sense was when it actually provided the accurate summary of the match.
Before tonight, Sri Lanka had not beaten India at home for 3283 days and nine ODIs in between. Till about 40 overs of the Indian innings, it seemed like Sri Lanka will manage to break the losing streak. There were multiple visibly success-hungry players who chipped in at every step to finally make the everlasting grimace from Mickey Arthur’s face disappear.
The openers did their job. The tail put on a show to overcome the continued difficulties of the middle-order. Yes, as per numbers the first innings score of 275 was 42 short of the match-winning total at the R Premadasa stadium. And yes, India managed to brush aside a target of 263 in the first ODI. But there was still something to bowl at and exploit India’s rusty underbelly.
For the first 40 overs of the second innings, the tide was in Sri Lanka’s favour. The tactic against Prithvi Shaw worked, the pacers were intimidating, Wanindu Hasaranga’s variations were difficult to pick, and even when Lakshan Sandakan did bowl far too many boundary balls, he managed to pick the wicket that mattered. The skipper Dasun Shanaka had the luck on his side when his fingers brushed the ball to result in the unluckiest mode of dismissal for a batsman.
India were 67 afar from the target when the 41st over began. Not a high asking rate in the modern era. But the batsmen at the crease were numbers eight and nine, hanging there at 22*(42) and 3*(13) respectively. The two batsmen to follow have an ODI average of 13.11 and 8.83. Sri Lanka were leading the second innings session pie, distributed by a period of 10 overs, two-zero.
India’s pace bowlers started the day with a record of being wicketless in the first 10 overs while bowling first in the last four ODIs. The record remained intact on the fifth attempt as well. Avishka Fernando continued where he left off. Minod Bhanuka was more assertive. Sri Lanka were none for 75 after 13 overs. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Deepak Chahar hardly bowled a ball in the 130kmph range. Hardik Pandya was clutching his back after a bouncer. India needed their spinners again.
After Kuldeep Yadav in the last game, it was Yuzvendra Chahal’s turn to shine today. Having fended away everything that came his way all afternoon, Bhanuka chipped a full toss to midwicket. Bhanuka Rajapaksa played for the turn that wasn’t there. He was one of many to do so in the game. Ishan Kishan held onto a faint edge. India were back in it.
A lot of firsts for the series happened around 24-25th over of the innings. A batsman hit Krunal Pandya for a boundary for the first time in the series. In Fernando, Sri Lanka had their first batsman to cross the 50-run mark. And Bhuvneshwar took his first wicket of the series after Fernando got ahead of himself and skied a slog.
Soon the runs dried up. Sri Lanka scored 131/5 in overs 11-40 in the first ODI. They got 136/6 in the second powerplay. Chahar bowled two exemplary knuckleballs. One to fox Dhananjaya de Silva who mistimed it to mid-off and the other, a more impressive one to york Shanaka.
The resemblance to the last game continued. Sri Lanka bettered 76/3 in the last 10 overs from the last game to 80/3 in this one. With some slog sweeps and inside-out strokes, Charith Asalanka became the second half-centurion for Sri Lanka. But, Chamika Karunaratne stole the limelight by repeating his performance from the first ODI. Reading the slower ones from the pacers well yet again, he scored an unbeaten 43 - one less than what he hit in the first game - but equally effective. Since the 2019 World Cup, number eight from no other country have averaged higher than Sri Lanka’s. But soon another number eight was to suck all the joy from them.
Prithvi Shaw once again began with a bang with three effortless boundaries in the first over. Dhawan got three for himself in the second over. In the first four overs, Sri Lanka leaked three boundaries through misfields. But, they were to make a comeback soon.
After 26 runs in the first two overs, the hosts handed the ball to Hasaranga. A drop in pace did not work well for Shaw’s rhythm who did not bother to read the googly and ended up playing for the turn, outside the line only for the ball to hit his stumps. For Kishan, the plan was different. There was no spin upfront like the first ODI. He played Kasun Rajitha back onto his stumps in the fifth over. Sri Lanka were pumped. The two destroyers-in-chief from the first ODI were back in the hut early.
With a spring in their step, the Sri Lankan pacers troubled Dhawan. A pull just evaded the fielder in the ring. A fend off a bouncer dropped just short of point. The game was on. It was Hasaranga again who had Dhawan playing a ball on the backfoot when he could have been forward. A good review resulted in Suryakumar Yadav’s arrival at the crease.
Having debuted after crossing 30, Surya has perhaps played more domestic cricket than a lot of Indian cricketers in the squad to Sri Lanka combined. In what was his 100th List A match, he produced a masterclass on how to play spin. Surya’s dominance on the inside-out shot is by now widely known. Tonight, he demonstrated his mastery of reading the googly by chipping and lapping Hasaranga’s wrong-uns with nonchalance. Then there were punches and ramps to the pacers. To the longer boundaries, Surya and Manish Pandey ran well to keep the asking rate hovering around five an over.
Six out of ten overs from Sandakan saw at least one boundary. Most of these were full tosses, each of which had Arthur cursing in the dressing room. Meanwhile, luck continued to favour the hosts as a straight drive from Surya had the ball brush Shanaka’s palms and onto the stumps. Pandey walked back after a well-made 37. Hardik departed in the same over through a tame dismissal after playing with hard hands to midwicket.
Krunal got in with Surya as India’s last recognized pair. Sri Lanka tested Krunal with a lot of short-pitched stuff. But he kept on fighting.
Meanwhile, Surya drove Sandakan past mid-off to reach his maiden fifty. But Sandakan somehow managed to make him miss a defensive shot and get him LBW. India were still 116 runs short. A few quiet overs late, Hasaranga got into the act again. This time Krunal played for the turn that wasn’t there. It looked over for India.
Sandakan ambled in to bowl the 41st over. Yet again he was the one to help India release some steam. Chahar swept a ball strayed at his pads to collect a boundary after seven dry overs. The bowler was Sandakan again - in his next over – whom Chahar hit for his first aggressive shot and cleared the long-off fence. 47 needed off the last seven.
In the next over, Chahar hit Rajitha for two fours. One a genuine thump down the ground and the other a genuine outside edge, the first of many to follow.
35 needed off 36 balls. Game on. Even Rahul Dravid walked out of the dressing room to provide a message for the 12th man to communicate. Chahar reached his fifty in the next over. His partner in the middle, Bhuvneshwar, had been here before. With MS Dhoni in 2017. He was the senior partner tonight. With no pressure of the asking rate, they played out two overs of Hasaranga by scoring only three runs. Perhaps that was the message. On either side of those overs were five boundaries. Four of them to outside edges. In the ‘V’, but in the opposite direction. The last of these was a slog to the deep midwicket fence to end the game.
Chahar, in the calm company of Bhuvneshwar, robbed Sri Lanka of a win. Out of the five-session pies, India won only the last one. But, that was the one that mattered.