Sri Lanka defeated India by 7 wickets © Getty Images
Sri Lanka defeated India by 7 wickets © Getty Images

This article started: As expected, in the end it was a comfortable win for India. It is certain that the Virat Kohli-led unit have made it to the semi-final…Oh wait. Writing templates do not work in cricket. This was another learning for this writer. The more calm Angelo Mathews looked at the crease; I knew it meant more miseries for Indians. The Group B clash of ICC Champions Trophy 2017 between India and Sri Lanka was the 150th ODI between the nations — the most between any two sides in this format. Sri Lanka’s unexpected 3-wicket triumph over this world-class Indian side has wide-opened the Group B equations. In fact, all teams in both groups stand a chance to enter the semi-final stage. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs Sri Lanka, ICC Champions Trophy 2017, Match 8 at The Oval

Ahead of the tournament, the buzz was about India’s strong bowling attack, perhaps their best ever and the most formidable in this tournament. Such was the strength of bowling that Mohammed Shami and Ravichandran Ashwin are finding it difficult to break into the XI. On this ominous Thursday, the attack could not defend 321. Only Bhuvneshwar Kumar picked up a wicket and never before has an Indian attack unsuccessfully defended that many runs. Never before any side successfully chased that many in Champions Trophy’s 19-year history. Again the learning here: reputations do not matter and it is all about the on-field combats, on the given day.

Was it complacency for India? No, that will be disrespectful to this rebuilding Sri Lankan side. It was purely brilliant batting. Rather than sticking to India’s lapses, let me take you through the highlights from this epic encounter:

Rohit, Dhawan continue piling records: It seemed like an extension of India’s opening stand against Pakistan. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan were making batting look ridiculously easy. Rohit started the innings by dispatching a loose delivery from his Mumbai Indians (MI) teammate Lasith Malinga to the cover fence. The duo went past 1,000-run mark as openers in ICC events and became only the third pair to do so after Matthew Hayden – Adam Gilchrist and Sachin Tendulkar – Virender Sehwag.

Shikhar Dhawan scored 125, Rohit Sharma added 78 © Getty Images
Shikhar Dhawan scored 125, Rohit Sharma added 78 © Getty Images

In ICC tournaments, their partnership average reads a staggering 72.33, the best by any opening pair. At The Oval, the duo piled up 138 from 149 balls to put India on top.

Rohit, Kohli depart in succession: After dominating Malinga for major part of his innings, Rohit eventually fell to him but not before he piled up a 79-ball 78. Rohit had also registered 1,000 runs against Sri Lanka.

Rohit’s departure brought Kohli to the crease, who departed 6 balls later for a 5-ball duck. A rarity. This was Kohli’s first duck in an ICC event. It was Nuwan Pradeep, who exploited the champion batsman’s weakness around the off-stump area.

Virat Kohli was dismissed for a duck by Nuwan Pradeep © Getty Images
Virat Kohli was dismissed for a duck by Nuwan Pradeep © Getty Images

Sublime Dhawan: The wickets did not have an effect on Dhawan. Kohli fell in the 25th over. The following over from Malinga, Dhawan struck two boundaries. In the next two overs, Dhawan slammed three consecutive boundaries. India were 169 for 2 after 30 overs. The popular belief in today’s cricket is to double your 30-over score. India looked well set for the 340-run mark.

Dhawan touched the magical three-figure mark in the 40th over. He manufactured a square-cut off Pradeep to the point boundary to get there. In doing so, he joined the illustrious club of Sourav Ganguly, Herschelle Gibbs and Chris Gayle as the only batsmen to have notched-up 3 centuries in this tournament. He eventually fell to Malinga for 125.

Dhawan-Dhoni, a rarity: Yuvraj failed to replicate his Edgbaston magic and fell for an 18-ball 7. In the 34th over, Dhawan was joined by Dhoni much to the crowd’s glee. Dhoni and Dhawan may have been teammates for years, but it was only the fourth time the duo batted together in international cricket.

The Dhoni show: The second ball that Dhoni faced, he was struck on the pad. Mathews went for an LBW review that was unsuccessful. After five quiet balls, Dhoni went on to open his account with a powerful cut over backward point for a six. Dhoni eventually went to hammer another one later in his innings, and in doing so he surpassed Ganguly’s record of most international sixes away from home. Dhoni with 161 sixes has struck the most sixes by an Indian playing overseas. However not all have come for India, as he has struck 7 for Asia XI.

Dhoni did not really set things on fire initially but did well to support Dhawan in the stand of 82. Known for his finishing prowess, Dhoni stepped up towards the end before perishing in the final over for a 52-ball 63, putting up another fine show against Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s death bowling and the Kedar touch: Sri Lanka may have given away over 100 runs in the final 10 overs, but in reality that could have been more, especially in the position India were in. As aforementioned, 340 was a possibility. After 49 overs, India were 306 for 5. Kedar Jadhav belted 14 from the last 4 balls to take India past 320. Jadhav’s 13-ball 25 not out made a big difference.

In the post match ceremony, Kohli said that they had enough runs on the board. Yes, probably. But that’s considering Sri Lanka’s inexperience. India were at least 20 runs short considering the start they received. Now it was up to their famed bowlers…

Gunathilaka’s charge: Sri Lanka lost their hard-hitting opener Niroshan Dickwella to Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s knuckle ball. And I began this report as an obit to Sri Lanka’s semi-final chances. Dickwella’s wicket was the only one to fall off an Indian bowler.

Sri Lanka were off to a steady start, scoring 44 for 1 after 10 overs. Danushka Gunathilaka had raced to 25-ball 27 at this stage. His charge ensured Sri Lanka were not under serious pressure. It is commendable considering that the southpaw only came into the squad at the expense of the injured Chamara Kapugedara and made it to the XI in place of the banned Upul Tharanga.

The Guna-Mendis show: The world witnessed Kusal Mendis’ exploits against Australia last year. There is a Mahela-ness to his batting. Consistency has been an issue otherwise it is all positives for this youngster. He joined Gunathilaka at the crease in the fifth over with the score on 11. There began a partnership that sealed the fate of Indians. The duo added 159 from 139 deliveries. They were particularly harsh on Ravindra Jadeja. Together they scored 40 from the 29 deliveries they faced collectively of the left-armer. The Oval was graced with a supreme show of batsmanship. India did have their moments though.

Pandya’s unlucky over: Hardik Pandya started well with a three-run over. His next over, the 15th of Sri Lankan innings, was a maiden and he almost had Mendis out. In fact there were two chances. One almost carried to the short cover and then Pandya dropped a firm drive on his follow-through. Pandya started with figures of 2-1-3-0 but Sri Lanka showed him little respect thereon. He gave away 48 from his next five overs.

Baffling Kohli and ‘run outs’ to rescue: Kohli employed part-timer Jadhav in the 26th over. The over cost only 4. The next over he brought on himself and started with a rank-bad short ball that was dispatched by Mendis for four. Four balls later, Gunathilaka fell after going for a quick two. He became a victim to Dhoni’s fast hands. Despite Umesh Yadav’s wide throw and the fine dive, he had to walk back after a fine display of 72-ball 76.

Despite the wicket falling, Kohli did little to apply pressure on the new batsman. He kept bowling with Jadhav until the 32nd over. The six overs cost India 36 runs but it gave ample time to Kusal Perera to settle down. Also, India seemed to be on a comfort cushion called runs. There were too many easy singles available.

In the 33rd over, another run out brought India back in the contest. This time Mendis was the victim and he fell to Bhuvi’s arms. His 89 from 93 deliveries won him the Man of the Match award. But at that stage Sri Lanka required 126 from 104 deliveries.

Sri Lanka by now had managed to be involved in 4 run outs in this tournament. Funnily, rest all the run outs in the tournament account to 5.

Calm, composed Angelo Mathews: The Sri Lankan skipper walked in next. Playing an ODI almost after a gap of 10 months and coming back after injury, Mathews did what he did best: That is finish games for his side. The platform was set but Sri Lanka needed someone to shepherd the youngsters to the finishing line. Mathews, it was.

Umesh, Bhuvi, Bumrah, Pandya and Jadeja could not penetrate Mathew’s composure. First it was his 75-run unbeaten stand with Kusal that placed Sri Lanka in firm position.

Asela Gunaratne played a quickfire knock of 34 off 21 © Getty Images
Asela Gunaratne played a quickfire knock of 34 off 21 © Getty Images

Ask a 90s Indian kid and he will tell you how Sanath Jayasuriya spoilt his childhood. That batting style was back to display. Yes, Kusal’s style has an uncanny resemblance with the stalwart. What you do with the style is what matters. He did well to strike a 44-ball 47 before retiring hurt. He was limping at the crease. And now that was a rarity with Mathews at crease. Usually, he is the one batting on one-leg and doing the limping job.

Sri Lanka still needed 51 when Kusal walked off. Asela Gunaratne walked in ahead of the experienced Dinesh Chandimal. That was a smart move considering Bumrah was to bowl a few at the death and Gunaratne had recently shared the dressing room with the pacer in the MI camp. Gunaratne stunned all with a sweep six of Bumrah.  He later unleashed himself on India’s premier death bowler Bhuvi too.

It was the first time that Mathews and Gunaratne played together in an ODI. But it all ended in pleasant memories.

Kohli continued to be defensive with his field placements till the end. Indian bowlers failed to take wicket after the fifth over. Sri Lanka strolled past the record 321-mark in the penultimate over. Mathews remained not out on 52 from 45 and Gunaratne finished with 21-ball 34.

This, undoubtedly is one of the finest wins in Sri Lanka’s cricketing chronicles. Only twice in 10 times has Dhawan ended on a losing side after slamming a century.

With a win apiece – Sri Lanka, India, South Africa and Pakistan are all in the race to qualify for the semi-final spot from Group B.