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Mahendra Singh Dhoni's merry men ushered in the new season on a positive note, beating Sri Lanka by 21 runs on the back of an imposing batting display. Batting first, India played to their strength - batting the opposition out of the game by registering a massive 314-6 in 50 overs. Virat Kohli's meteoric rise continued as he constructed his third successive century (106) against Lanka, and his fifth straight fifty-plus score, thereby equaling Sachin Tendulkar's record. After overcoming a scratchy start, Virender Sehwag (96) brought his gung-ho tactics to the table to bruise the Lankan attack. Suresh Raina (50) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni(35), ransacking 79 runs in less than 10 overs closed out the innings in a mood of revelry. Sri Lanka's chase never really took off until Kumar Sangakkara (133) and Thisara Perera(44) produced a late assault to minimize the margin of defeat. Losing wickets in clusters knocked the wind out the Sri Lankan sails. Irfan Pathan, Umesh Yadav and Ravi Ashwin shared the bowling honors, claiming 2 wickets apiece.
Team India, coming off a rare seven-week break, confronted familiar foes, hosts, Sri Lanka in the first of the five match ODI series at Hambanatota on Saturday. The Indians, who had experienced a downward spiral following the high of their historic 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup win, set their sights on inaugurating the hectic new season with a bang!
While the usual suspects (barring the rested Sachin Tendulkar) featured in the Indian batting unit, the think-tank opted to field two specialist spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha. As Dhoni hinted in the pre-match build up, Irfan Pathan was picked as a genuine all-rounder, giving the team the liberty of playing 3 seamers and 2 spinners. Sri Lanka, riding high on their emphatic series wins over Pakistan in both ODIs and Tests were aiming to carry forward their good form. The Lankans played a 3-1 attack with left arm tweaker, Rangana Herath returning to the ODI set up.
Dhoni began auspiciously by winning the toss and electing to make first use of the pitch. The surface at Hambanatota is known to be dry and with the ball usually not coming onto the bat, chasing under lights was reckoned to be a difficult proposition.
Sachin Tendulkar's conspicious absence meant that the Delhi duo of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were reunited at the top of the order. New ball operator, Nuwan Kulasekara nipping the ball around with typical accuracy teased the visibly rusty Viru outside the off-stump.The reunion did not last long as Gambhir (3), paying the penalty for shuffling too far across, was bowled behind his legs by Kulasekara. In the interim, Tillakaratne Dilshan spilled a dolly in the gully to gift Sehwag a life. Believe it or not, it took the Nawab of Najafgarh 18 balls to find the fence. The new man, Virat Kohli (also a Delhiite), restored sanity to proceedings with a couple of vintage boundaries. Kohli's drives were a veritable delight to the eye, nothing less than gorgeous.
Sehwag continued to lead a charmed life. Kulasekara injured himself when he threw himself forward at mid-off to grasp Sehwag's mistimed drive, he limped off the field and did not feature in the rest of the game. Since there was no conclusive proof if the catch had been competed cleanly, the TV umpire ruled the decision in favour of the batsman. A ball later, Kohli was dropped by Perera in his follow-through. Sloppy fielding from the home team continued to cost them dear. The 50 of the partnership was notched up in 60 balls. Viru soon rediscovered the freshness and freedom of old to give India the upper-hand.
Mahela swapped his bowlers with gusto but to no avail as the batsmen opened their shoulders leaving India well placed at 75-1 in 15 overs.
Intriguingly, the Men in Blue called for the batting powerplay as early as the 17th over. Combining exquisite timing with a healthy helping of cheek the awesome twosome compiled 32 runs in the 5 over window. During the process, Sehwag galloped to first fifty since his record-breaking 219 at Indore. Moments later, the rapidly maturing Kohli achieved his fifth consecutive ODI fifty.The spinners, Dilshan and Herath proved to be easy meat. Sehwag's staple shots - the murderous pull, the lofted shot came to the fore during the crucial middle overs.The Lankans, who were caught between a dancing swordsman and an advancing wall, were bereft of answers. Viru and Kohli, milking the hosts proficiently, carried India to 169-1 in 30 overs.
Thisara Perera redeemed himself briefly in the 32nd over by effecting a direct hit off his own bowling down the non-striker's to run Virender Sehwag out, four shy of the three figure mark. Rohit Sharma (5) then followed suit, bowled through the gate by Angelo Mathews. Despite the double strike, India's run rate hardly slackened. Kohli and Suresh Raina, apart from cracking the odd boundary, were lightning quick between the wickets. Kohli celebrated his ton in subdued fashion, acknowledging the cheers with dignity and equanimity.
Just when Kohli (106) seemed to cut loose, Perera foxed him by means of a clever drop in pace. With power-hitters, Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni taking charge, a tall total loomed large.
Raina (50) and Dhoni (35), lusting for the jugular tore the Sri Lankan bowling to shreds. Malinga was singled out for special treatment as the swashbuckling southpaw lit up the first six of the day, depositing the blonde quickie over log on. Dhoni's favorite helicopter shot, imparting tremendous force against a Slinga Malinga length ball also stood out. Perera caused both sluggers to hole out in the deep in the final over. But the damage had already been done. The patented Raina-Dhoni explosion powered India past the 300 barrier. Sri Lanka sorely missed the services of Kulasekara, who was unable to bowl further owing to a serious groin injury he picked up when diving full stretch at mid-off.
Virender Sehwag returned the favor to Dilshan, putting down a sitter to deny Zaheer Khan a wicket in the first over of Sri Lanka's chase. But, unlike Sehwag, Dilshan failed to cash in and fell lbw to an incoming delivery from Irfan Pathan for 6. The new ball kept rather low and posed a major threat to Upul Tharanga and Kumar Sangakkara. Impressive bowling forced Upul Tharanga and Kumar Sangakkara to grind hard for runs. Boundaries were an elusive commodity. Realizing the importance of preserving wickets, the pair settled down nicely by resorting to common sense cricket. The erratic Umesh Yadav, spraying the ball all over the place, aiding Sri Lanka's cause. At 68-1 in 15 overs, Sri Lanka were looking to up the tempo in the next phase of play.
However that did not happen as India's lead spinner, Ravi Ashwin, deriving instant purchase from the pitch compounded Lanka's misery. The advent of the bowling powerplay saw the return of Zaheer and Pathan. Zak's hairstyle may have changed over the past few months but his hostile bowling remains constant. Shortly after, Dhoni turned back to his slower men.
Ashwin, fizzing his off-breaks sniffed out the 77 run alliance, snaring Tharanga for a patient 28. Dinesh Chandimal (13) nicked a Umesh Yadav delivery to aggravate Sri Lanka's disastrous response. Pragyan Ohja too joined the party, accounting for Captain Mahela Jayawardene for 2. His deputy, Mathews joined Sanga in the middle with a herculian task ahead of them.
Veteran Sangakkara loosened the shackles a bit with 2 oxygen-like boundaries in the first over of the batting powerplay. Mathews (7) though perished to Zaheer's surprise knuckle ball. The pressure intensified with every passing dot ball. Ashwin, varying his trajectory superbly got rid of Lahiru Thirimanne just after the batting powerplay, that had yielded 35 runs. Amidst the ruins, the resilient Sanga reached his 14th ODI hundred (almost unnoticed). Perera, coming in at 8, swung his willow wildly. Sangakkara, albeit slow, cut and pulled with conviction during the course of his painstaking knock. The former skipper was exceptionally lucky to have been ruled not out by the third umpire after a back flick from Dhoni saw the keeper knocking over the stumps with Sanga's bat clearly either on the line or perhaps even just short of it. However, the local TV Umpire opted to keep the game interesting. Sri Lanka, shifted to top gear once the slog overs got underway, injecting life into the contest. The equation read 61 from 30 balls.
Sri Lanka manufactured 15 from the next over to leave the game tantalizingly poised. Thankfully for the visitors, Umesh Yadav, making a mockery of Sanga's scoop, uprooted his leg stump to put India ahead in the game. Sanga's 133 contained 12 hits to the fence. Herath was run-out for naught thanks to Raina's brilliance in the field. The writing on the wall became clear when Perera, the pocket dynamo was dismissed by Pathan for a 28-ball-44. A valiant Kulasekara strode out to bat despite his injury, and Malinga repaid his opening bowling partner by tonking 2 sixes in the final over; but Sri Lanka couldn't get the job done as India clinched the game by 21 runs.
The Lankan bowlers, who were despatched all over the park will have to pick up the debris and come back hard at the famed Indian batting department to give themselves a chance of leveling the series 1-1 when the two teams meet again at the same venue on Tuesday, July 24. India's tremendous batting masked their fielding deficiencies. Both sides will need to improve their fielding ahead of the 2nd ODI.
Sri Lanka: U Tharanga, T Dilshan, K Sangakkara (wk), M Jayawardene (c), LD Chandimal, A Mathews, L Thirimanne, T Perera, N Kulasekara, L Malinga, R Herath
India: V Sehwag, G Gambhir, V Kohli, Rohit Sharma, S Raina, MS Dhoni (c & wk), I Pathan, R Ashwin, Z Khan, U Yadav, P Ojha
India: 314-6 (50 overs, 6.28 rpo)
V Kohli 106(113) T Perera 3-70
V Sehwag 96(97) N Kulasekara 1-20
Sri Lanka: 293-9( 50 overs, 5.86 rpo)
K Sangakkara 133(151) I Pathan 2-37
T Perera 44(28) R Ashwin 2-46
India won by 21 runs
File Photograph Copyright: Michael Henn
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