Hambantota: A well-rested Indian team showed hunger and nous in equal measure to seal a 21-run win over Sri Lanka in the opening game of the five-match series. Hambantota is a new venue to the Indian team, but they stuck to the old formula of batting first and putting runs on the board. Eventually, the well-drilled Sri Lankan team pulled up short.
Virat Kohli had been in the form of his life when India’s season ended abruptly with elimination in the Asia Cup in March. In his first international outing since, Kohli showed that time away from the international stage hadn’t adversely affected either his hunger or his desire. His 12th hundred, another sparkling compilation that was equal parts brilliant strokeplay and excellent running between the wickets, was the highlight – alongside Virender Sehwag’s 96 – of India’s competitive 314 for 6 in the first One-Day International against Sri Lanka. (Also see: Match in pics)
For Sri Lanka to mount a successful chase called for an extraordinary batting effort at a venue when, previously, the side batting first had won three of the four matches. Kumar Sangakkara produced that knock, but his first hundred at home since 2004 was still not enough as Sri Lanka finished on 293 for 9, leaving India victors by 21 runs.
Sangakkara’s 14th hundred had been a wonderful solo performance until Thisara Perera joined him in an entertaining seventh-wicket stand of 78, off just 53 deliveries. Sangakkara was circumspect at the start after two edged fours through the slips, but cut loose spectacularly towards the end. It wasn’t until Umesh Yadav bowled him, with 46 needed off 18 deliveries, that India could afford to breathe easy.
India were patchy and inconsistent with the ball. Irfan Pathan, along with R Ashwin the best bowler on view, fired out Tillakaratne Dilshan in the second over, but Zaheer Khan bowled a succession of wides to allow Upul Tharanga and Sangakkara to get their eye in.
Once Zaheer found his direction, however, Pathan and he gave very little away, Pathan’s swing and Zaheer’s movement off the seam forcing Tharanga and Sangakkara to dig deep. The second-wicket association did realise 77, but consumed 105 deliveries. India were well served by Ashwin, whose versatile bag brooked careful watching throughout his 10-over spell, and as Sri Lanka lost wickets every time a partnership threatened to be developing, India seemed to have the game comfortably in the bag.
Sangakkara, running out of partners and faced with a steep required rate, decided to take control. He latched on to Zaheer during the batting Power Play and continued in the same fashion, finding an able attacking ally in Perera. Sangakkara also rode his luck, being adjudged not out by third umpire Ruchira Palliyaguruge when on 113 as Dhoni dislodged the bails with the bat on the line.
As Sangakkara and Perera piled on the pressure, India’s fielding went to pieces. There were misfields and overthrows galore, and the size of the outfield showed up both their speed across the turf and throwing arms.
In the afternoon, the sparse gathering was treated to an excellent exhibition of batting by Sehwag and Kohli. Sri Lanka began promisingly through Nuwan Kulasekara and Lasith Malinga, but once Sehwag shrugged off a lethargic, uncertain start, India were up and running.
Sehwag was initially unrecognisable as the dominant, destructive force bowlers around the world have come to fear. He was dropped on 0 by
Dilshan – Sehwag returned the favour when Dilshan was 4 – at point
slashing at Kulasekara, and was fortunate again on 24 when Kulasekara dived in front at mid-off trying to latch on to a mistimed off-drive, but TV replays couldn’t reveal with certainty if the catch had been taken cleanly.
Kohli had no such problems. His timing was impeccable, stroke-selection judicious and placement near perfect as he initially made up for Sehwag’s scoreless ways. Sehwag had made just 5 from 18 deliveries, but once he was reprieved by Kulasekara – who injured his groin with the dive and didn’t bowl again – he was a batsman transformed.
Kohli quietly slipped into the background as the Sehwag of old resurfaced, peppering the off-side boundary. Dhoni forced Jayawardene to don the thinking cap by taking the batting Power Play in the 17th over. Jayawardene shuffled his pack around, but Kulasekara’s unavailability was a big handicap.
Sehwag and Kohli had put on 173 at almost a run a ball when Sehwag’s luck finally ran out, literally. Kohli continued to feast on Sri Lanka, bringing up his third hundred against them in as many ODIs. He then ceded centrestage to Dhoni and Suresh Raina, who together ensured that Malinga, with none for 83 from 10 overs, sent down the most expensive ODI spell on Sri Lankan soil.