India outlasted a plucky seventh-wicket partnership between Dhananjaya de Silva and Dunith Wellalage to beat Sri Lanka by 41 runs and qualify for the final of the Asia Cup on Tuesday.
Chasing a 214-run target, a figure magnified by a pitch that spat out sharp turn for spinners, Sri Lanka were bowled out for 172, and dealt a reality check that proved that there was still some work to be done before they can challenge bigger teams than those they faced in compiling their much talked about 13-game winning streak.
What the home team can take heart in, is the emerging talent of Wellalage, the 20-year-old first becoming the youngest Sri Lankan to take a five-wicket haul before remaining unbeaten on 42 off 46, showing more patient and poise in difficult conditions than the more senior batsmen in his team.
It earned him the relatively rare honour of being named Man of the Match, despite being on the losing team.
While India’s three left-arm spinners were going to pose the biggest threat to the home team fashioning a win, they lost their top three batsmen to the pace bowling of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Siraj, reduced to 32 for 3 at the ten-over mark.
A 43-run partnership between Sadeera Samarawickrama and Charith Asalanka revived the innings, even if the scoring rate didn’t quite match what was required at the time, before Samarawickrama charged Kuldeep Yadav and missed, giving KL Rahul the easiest of stumping chances.
Yadav accounted for the wicket of Asalanka in his next over, the left-hander miscuing a sweep shot and offering a catch to Rahul off his glove.
A 63-run partnership with Dhananjaya de Silva, that began when Sri Lanka were woefully off the pace at 99 for 6 in the 26th over, appeared to be turning the tide in their team’s favour.
It was not without its moments of fortune – the Indian bowlers creating a fair share of chances – but the pair held on, bringing the equation down to 66 runs needed off the final 17 overs.
A rotation of four overs between Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya, that gave up just nine runs, pushed the pressure back on Sri Lanka, which proved the game’s breaking point when de Silva failed in a rash attempt to loft a Jadeja delivery over the fielder at mid-on.
From there, the innings unraveled, from 162 for 7 to 172 all out, with Yadev taking two of the remaining three wickets for figures of 4 for 43.
It overshadowed a match that Wellalage will long remember, claiming his maiden five-wicket haul that helped bowl India out for 213, the amount of spin on offer so prodigious that part-time spinner Asalanka also returned career-best figures of 4 for 18.
Wellalage struck with his first ball into the attack, wrong footing a forward-lunging Shubnam Gill, to find the gap between bat and pad, bowling him out for 19.
He then had Virat Kohli caught at short midwicket and Rohit Sharma bowled by a delivery that kept low, dismissing the Indian captain soon after he scored his 51st fifty – a knock that also saw him become the second fastest to 10,000 ODI runs.
Ishan Kishan and Rahul attempted to negate the damage that Wellalage had done with a 63-run stand, with Rahul scoring two consecutive boundaries when the spinner returned for a second spell.
But Wellalage had the final say, when in his next over Rahul returned a simple catch back to the bowler.
Kishan fell to Asalanka for 33, before Wellalage ended his 10-over quota with the wicket of Pandya caught behind for 5 – the umpire initially giving the batsman not out, only to be reversed on review.
Asalanka then dismissed Ravindra Jadeja for 4 as India slid to 178 for 8 in the 39th over, returning three overs later to remove Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldeep Yadav off consecutive deliveries.
Axar Patel and Mohammad Siraj stretched the innings into the final over, the last wicket partnership, sandwiching a short rain interruption, broken when the former holed out for 26.
(Shehan Daniel at the R. Premadasa Stadium / Pix: Pradeep Dilrukshana)