Zeecric Bureau/Pratik Dogra
Nagpur: Fielding collapses at crucial junctures cost India Nagpur ODI as Sri Lanka chased down a formidable target of 302 runs to score a thrilling 3-wicket victory over India and level the five-match series 1-1.
With 8 runs required off 9 balls, Zaheer Khan at mid-on made a complete mess of a straight forward hit from Angelo Mathews to let in a crucial boundary and then, 2 balls later, failed to latch on to a catch at the same position to allow Sri Lanka squeeze home in the final over.
In space of three deliveries, Zaheer undid all the hard work he had done to bring India back into contention in the match after yet another blinder of an innings from Tillakaratne Dilshan which had threatened to seal the issue in Sri Lanka’s favour much earlier.
Dilshan slammed his second consecutive ton in the series and like at Rajkot, he kept the Indian bowlers at bay, hardly playing a false stroke.
His domination was total as he seemed to plunder runs at will.
His 123 runs came off just 113 balls, and by the time Ashish Nehra ‘yorked’ him in the 36th over, at 213/3, Sri Lanka were on course to level the series.
Chasing 302 to win, Sri Lanka had started in the right earnest as their openers, Dilshan and Upal Tharanga provided a strong platform with a 102 run-partnership for the first-wicket in less than 14 overs.
Their endeavor was however, curtailed when Tharanga fell for 37 runs to Harbhajan Singh. He faced 42 balls and hit 5 fours.
India got another lifeline when Sri Lankan captain Kumara Sangakkara ran himself out while attempting a non-existent single.
Backing too much down the pitch, by the time Dilshan refused the run, Suresh Raina’s strong arm had already done the trick for India.
Sangakkara fell for 21 runs, following which spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Harbbhajan Singh chipped in with a few tight overs.
A 66 run-partnership for the third wicket then ensued between Mahela Jayawardene and Dilshan as the Sri Lankan innings regained some composure.
It was left to pace spearheads Nehra and Zaheer and to revive India’s fortunes with vital breakthroughs of the experienced Sri Lankan duo and for a while; pendulum had swung India’s way.
As Jayawardene made a beeline to the dressing room with Sri Lanka at 238/4 after 40 overs, it seemed that the Sri Lankans might come apart again like they did in Rajkot.
Once bitten, twice shy!
Angelo Mathews, whose wicket in the closing stages at Rajkot had paved way for an Indian victory, held onto his nerves this time around to deny hosts any such favors.
Even as wickets fell at the other end, he remained unbeaten on 37 runs off just 25 balls, much to the displeasure of the capacity crowd at Nagpur, before fumbles from Zaheer, saw his team through.
With the ball though, Zaheer was the pick of the bowlers, picking 3 crucial wickets in the dearth.
Nehra too bowled well in patches, especially at the dearth, but the damage caused by Dilshan early on proved a bit too much for the Indians.
India recovered from a poor start and thanks largely to a fantastic century from skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, to post a very competitive 301/7 from their allotted 50 overs.
While this was Dhoni’s second century on trot at this venue, the previous one having come just last month against the Australians, it was his 6th ODI ton overall.
Coming to bat with India trickily placed at 81/3 in the 17th over following Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal, Dhoni anchored the Indian innings to perfection, playing perfect foil to stroke-players Virat Kohli (54 runs) and Suresh Raina (68 runs), before coming into his own in the final overs to propel India past the 300 run-mark.
Dhoni, who is the top-ranked batsman as per ICC’s ODI ratings, justified his top billing to the hilt throughout his 111 ball knock, scoring 107 runs with the aid of 8 fours and 2 towering sixes.
He eventually fell in the final over, understandably exhausted from his day’s exploits, holed up a simple catch to Tillakaratne Dilshan at deep mid-wicket off the bowling of debutant Suraj Randiv.
Dhoni, in fact was one of Randiv’s three victims of the day who capped up an impressive debut with a very tidy final over, conceding just 5 runs besides adding Harbhajan Singh’s wicket to his tally as well.
Earlier, Dhoni had won the toss and had no hesitation in electing to bat first on the Nagpur pitch, which unlike the belter at Rajkot, offered assistance in good measure to the bowlers as well.
Rajkot’s centurion Virender Sehwag failed to replicate his previous performance, going for a flashy cut, buta only managing an edge to the wicket-keeper Kumara Sangakkara. He made just 4 runs and was Welagedara’s sole victim of the innings.
Gautam Gambhir, batting at number three, was run-out in unfortunate circumstances when he collided with Welagedara mid-way while completing a run. He made just 2 runs as India slumped to 19/2 in just the fifth over.
Meanwhile Sachin Tendulkar was at his fluent best at the other end, hitting a few glorious shots all around the park, much to the delight of a sell-out crowd at Nagpur.
The Mumbai Maestro added 62 runs with Kohli to soothe the nerves after India had suffered early setbacks.
However against the run of play, just when it looked like Tendulkar was on course for a big score, Ajantha Mendis struck, having his stumped of a short of length delivery,.
Tendulkar scored 43 crisp runs, hitting 4 fours in his promising 52-ball stay.
Kohli, in company of his captain, completed his third half-century of his ODI career that is still in the nascent stages.
The extremely talented youngster from Delhi is renowned for his tremendous grit in India’s domestic scene, and that quality was in ample display during his 54 run-knock as showed great maturity, keeping the scoreboard ticking.
He hit 7 fours from the 65 balls he faced before Randiv trapped him LBW.
His association with Dhoni yielded brisk 51 runs.
Raina then blasted a quick-fire 68 runs off just 56 balls with 4 fours and 3 sixes, as the Indian innings gathered momentum before hitting the fift gear in the final 210 overs.
The 126 run-partnership between Raina and Dhoni came at faster than run a ball as the hosts hammered 101 runs in the final 10 overs.
Yuvraj Singh, who is down with flu has been ruled out of the game.
India won the last ODI in Rajkot by 3 runs after amassing a mammoth total of 414 runs to take 1-0 lead in the series.
Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni (w/c), Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Zaheer Khan.
Upul Tharanga, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara(w/c), Mahela Jayawardene, Thilina Kandamby, Chamara Kapugedera, Angelo Mathews, Suraj Randiv, Suranga Lakmal, Chanaka Welegedara, Ajantha Mendis