Sri Lanka pulled off the biggest upset of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy so far as they beat India by 7 wickets at the Oval, chasing down an imposing target of 322 runs with relative ease in the 49th over itself. The result threw Group B wide open as now all four teams are on 2 points and the last two matches, (India vs South Africa and Pakistan vs Sri Lanka), will decide who goes through to the semi-finals.
Sometimes you need that bit of luck to change your fate and Sri Lanka got that boost on Wednesday during practice as Chamara Kapugedara injured his right knee. The middle-order batsman was ruled out and Danushka Gunathilaka came right into the playing XI and perhaps played the most important innings of his short ODI career so far.
Sri Lankan captain Angelo Mathews had warned on Wednesday that the gap between the teams is not a lot as the youngsters in his team had shown the firepower to beat more illustrious opponents away from home and that is exactly what the men from the ‘Emerald Isles’ did on Thursday at the Oval.
India’s machine-like batting unit put up 321 runs on the board despite captain Virat Kohli failing to open his account, after being put into bat, and that total needed some chasing from the young Sri Lankans.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar removed Niroshan Dickwella (7) early with some disciplined bowling and with Kusal Mendis also taking some time to get going, the Sri Lankan chase almost seemed to be following the same pattern as that of Pakistan.
But Gunathilaka had other ideas. He batted with the flair of Sangakkara and the fearlessness of Jayasuriya, cutting and pulling the Indian pace bowlers with elan to take the fight back to Kohli and his men.
Mendis soon found his range and the duo started milking the one dimensional Indian bowling and peppered that with the occasional boundary. Gunathilaka brought up his half-century with a big six over mid-wicket and that was a signal to Team India that they had a fight on their hands.
Mendis then upped the ante by targetting Jadeja and he too brought up his half-century with a huge six off the left-arm spinner. The duo came down hard on Jadeja and Pandya and by the time the 25th over of the innings was bowled, they had ensured Kohli and Dhoni were involved in intense meetings in the middle of the ground.
India did have a few half chances but they couldn’t take them. Pandya’s drop of Mendis off his own bowling and Rohit Sharma failing to take a difficult chance in the deep offered by Gunathilaka made matters worse for the ‘Men in Blue’.
The gauntlet had been thrown in by the young Lankan duo by putting on a century stand for the second wicket and Virat Kohli responded by introducing the part-time spin of Kedar Jadhav and himself on into the attack. Kohli’s first over produced an inside edge off the bat of Mendis and then the all important moment came.
Gunathilaka flicked one towards backward square leg and tried to complete a double, but his decision to take on Umesh Yadav’s arm turned out to be a suicidal one as Yadav’s accurate throw and Dhoni’s lightening quick gloves-work broke the 159-run stand. Gunathilaka departed for a career-best score of 76.
That wicket took the wind out of Sri Lanka’s chase for a few overs and there was more trouble when Bhuvneshwar Kumar ran Mendis out off his own bowling with the score on 196/3. But the scoring rate maintained by the duo of Gunathilaka and Mendis allowed the new pair of Kusal Perera and Angelo Mathews to take their time before getting the boundaries away.
Perera and Mathews played calmly, knowing they didn’t need to go hammer and tongs at the bowling and kept the team in the chase by getting the crucial boundaries away. With 75 runs needed off the last 10 overs it was Sri Lanka’s match to lose from there on.
Kusal Perera struggled with a hamstring injury and eventually had to retire hurt after scoring 47 crucial runs in just 44 deliveries at the end of the 43rd over with Sri Lanka still needing 51 runs off the last seven overs.
New man Asela Gunaratne hit a six off Umesh Yadav’s 44th over and then two boundaries off Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s 45th over to bring the equation down to almost run-a-ball.
After that it was a cakewalk as both Gunaratne and Mathews got the job done in with eight balls to spare. Mathews batted with control and maturity to end up unbeaten on 52, while the maverick Gunaratne had played yet another cameo in a winning cause, staying unbeaten on 34 off just 21 deliveries.
Earlier, India posted a total of 321 runs on the board, with the opening pair of Rohit Sharma (78) and Shikhar Dhawan (125) stringing together a healthy 138-run partnership. India went about their business pretty much the way they are known to, keeping wickets in hand in the initial overs and then going for the jugular towards the end.
But that traditional approach might have cost India the match. With Shikhar Dhawan slamming a century and staying on till the 45th over, India were expected to score in excess of 350 at one point, but a sluggish 10-over period between the 31st and 40th over, which saw them slowing down after losing the quick wickets of Virat Kohli (0) and Yuvraj Singh (7) meant the ‘Men in Blue’ fell well short of the 350-run mark.
Shikhar Dhawan was in imperious touch from the beginning as he drove and cut with elegance, something that is rare to see when he is batting. Rohit Sharma helped himself to another half-century and keeping the plan that Indian has in place for ODIs, his strike-rate of 98.73 during his 79-ball knock was pretty much over par.
The inning saw a mini-crisis when Virat Kohli first edged one into the hands of wicket-keeper Dickwella while looking to run it down to the third man, and then Yuvraj Singh was done in by the slowness of Asela Gunaratne’s dibbly-dobbly medium pace.
MS Dhoni came into the middle with the score at 179/3 in 33.1 overs and he along with the well set Dhawan took the innings forward without taking too many undue risks. India upped the ante in the 41st over with both Dhawan and Dhoni going hell for leather. Dhawan brought up his tenth ODI century with brilliant cut shot in the 40th over and then cut loose. His innings came to an end in the 45th over with the southpaw scoring 125 well made runs off 128 deliveries.
India needed some quick runs and they came from the blade of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The Sri Lankan bowlers bowled some poor deliveries and Dhoni took advantage of it, slamming 7 boundaries and 2 sixes to score 63 off 52 deliveries, before being dismissed in the last over.
Kedar Jadhav’s brisk unbeaten 25 of 13 deliveries saw India end up with 321 runs, the last ten overs producing 103 runs.
Laraib Kashif is a freelance writer and cricket lover. He is interested in writing and playing Fantasy Cricket!