Champika Fernando in Leeds
Picture being at the receiving end of such a dominant performance! Virat Kholi’s men hardly broke a sweat as they pounded the hapless Sri Lankans to a comprehensive seven-wicket win in their final group game at Headingley grounds in Leeds yesterday. With 264 on the board, on the back of a defiant century by Angelo Mathews, one might have expected a close contest. But it was not to be.
It was plain sailing for the Indians from the moment Sri Lanka’s skipper elected to bat first on a wicket that was expected to slow down as it wore off. Four wickets within the first 12 overs saw the Sri Lankans on the back foot before Mathews and Lahiru Thirimanne rescued them with a slow but a steady partnership. But India, eyeing for their third World Cup title (second this decade), replied comprehensively to beat the Lankans.
Had their bowlers had the venom, penetration and aggression, Sri Lanka could have saved faced in front of a massive Indian crowd by losing with dignity. But Indian openers Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul took the Sri Lankan bowlers to the cleaners, hitting as many boundaries as possible in a match-winning stand. Not even Lasith Malinga, the man with an uncanny ability to york the ball, could stop the marauding Indian batters. In fact he was clobbered for 82 runs off his ten overs in his last World Cup game—his second worst bowling figures in the tournament. Thisara Perera was economical giving away just 34 runs but never looked threatening.
Sharma, in sublime form, hit a record fifth World Cup century—his third in a row—in this year’s tournament to become the highest scorer of this edition with 647 runs at 92.42 in eight innings. Kumar Sangakkara had previously held the record for most centuries, having scored four in the 2015 tournament played in New Zealand and Australia.
Sharma is the only cricketer with three double centuries in ODI cricket. He has scored two of them against the Sri Lankans and his 103 off 94 balls with 14 boundaries and two sixes showed that he had a particular liking for Sri Lankan bowlers. He played with such authority and composure, finding gaps at will, that it made mere spectators of the Lankan fielders.
His innings was undone soon after reaching the milestone by a Kasun Rajitha slow ball. Misjudging it completely, Sharma spooned it to mid-off where Angelo Mathews held it firmly, inviting a disbelieving silence from the crowd. It was a welcome respite for the Sri Lankans but they knew the game was all but lost after that solid foundation.
KL Rahul who replaced injured Shikhar Dhawan as opener continued the onslaught, reaching his maiden World Cup century as India went home by the 44th over of the match. He was undone by a Lasith Malinga delivery for 111 but, by then, the horse had bolted the stable. Virat Kholi was remained unbeaten on 34.
Earlier, a slow but steady fifth wicket stand between Angelo Mathews and Lahiru Thirimanne helped Sri Lanka recover from a dreadful start to score 264 for 7 after electing to bat first in their last World Cup group game. Along the way Mathews, reached his maiden World Cup hundred—signing off with a beautiful innings in this year’s edition.
Mathews, who is playing his third World Cup, had a previous best of an unbeaten 85 runs against England a few weeks ago in a winning game.
Having missed a semi-final opportunity through inconsistent performances and weather, Sri Lanka were keen to end it on a high by winning their last group game. But there was the all-too-familiar batting collapse early in the innings. This left Angelo Mathews and Lahiru Thirimanne, two experienced hands in the Sri Lanka side, to grind it out, neutralising the threats of the strong Indian bowling attack. The pair batted with extreme caution early on, rotating the strike and hitting the odd boundary. They shared 124 runs in 26.1 overs before Thirimanne departed for a well-composed 53 off 68 balls with four boundaries – his second consecutive 50 plus score in the tournament.
This was also Sri Lanka’s best partnership for any wicket in this year’s World Cup surpassing the previous best of 115 for the opening wicket between Kusal Mendis and Dimuth Karunaratne against Australia early in the tournament.
But Mathews continued his battle and reached the personal milestone with a boundary over backward point off Hardik Pandya before shedding a huge sigh of relief. He was dropped on 61 by Bhuvneshwar Kumar off spinner Ravindra Jadeja—a stroke of luck he badly needed to reach his maiden century.
Mathews finding form is hugely important. Playing only as a specialized batsman, having to give up bowling to remain injury-free, Mathews has struggled for form for a while and a bad tournament here would have forced the selectors to reconsider his positions in the side. But Mathews—the fighter-he is known for, came out of the rut, first with a match winning unbeaten 85 against England and then risking his career by sending down game-changing two overs against the West Indies. But his innings on Saturday was a statement of class from a hugely talented but an underachieved cricketer.
He was finally removed for 113 off 138 balls as he tried to accelerate towards the dying moments of their innings. He also shared 74 runs for the sixth wicket with Dananjaya de Silva who remained unfinished on 29.
However, Sri Lanka could regret their early batting collapse. They lost four of their top batsmen for just 55 runs by the 12th over. Dimuth Karunaratne (10), Kusal Perera (18), Avishka Fernando (20) and Kusal Mendis (3) all departed cheaply. Indian bowling sensation Jasprit Bumrah removed both openers before Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya removed Kusal and Avishka, Sri Lanka reeling at 55 for 4.
Dimuth Karunaratne c Dhoni b Bumrah 10
Kusal Perera c Dhoni b Bumrah 18
Avishka Fernando c Dhoni b Pandya 20
Kusal Mendis st Dhoni b Jadeja 3
Angelo Mathews c Sharma b Bumrah 113
Lahiru Thirimanne c Jadeja b Yadav 53
Dhananjaya de Silva not out 29
Thissara Perera c Pandya b Kumar 2
Isuru Udana not out 1
Extras (b4, lb2, nb1, w8) 15
Total (7 wickets; 50 overs) 264
Fall of wickets: 1-17 (Karunaratne), 2-40 (K. Perera), 3-53 (K. Mendis), 4-55 (Fernando), 5-179 (Thirimanne), 6-253 (Mathews), 7-260 (T. Perera)
Did not bat: Kasun Rajitha, Lasith Malinga
Bowling: Kumar 10-0-73-1, Bumrah 10-2-37-3, Pandya 10-0-50-1, Jadeja 10-0-40-1, Yadav 10-0-58-1
KL Rahul c K. Perera b Malinga 111
Rohit Sharma c Mathews b Rajitha 103
Virat Kohli not out 34
Rishabh Pant lbw b Udana 4
Hardik Pandya not out 7
Extras (lb1, w5) 6
Total (3 wickets; 43.3 overs) 265
Fall of wickets: 1-189 (Sharma), 2-244 (Rahul), 3-253 (Pant)
Did not bat: MS Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah
Bowling: Malinga 10-1-82-1, Rajitha 8-0-47-1, Udana 9.3-0-50-1, T. Perera 10-0-34-0, De Silva 6-0-51-0