Vineet Ramakrishnan/Zeenews Sports Bureau
The preview of the first match of the Asia cup for India revolved around the all elusive 100th 100 for Sachin Tendulkar. But in the 6th over when Lakmal sent the Master Blaster packing, the unsung hero Gautam Gambhir (100 runs) and the pin-up boy of Indian cricket, Virat Kohli (108 runs) took centre stage as India defeated Sri Lanka by 50 runs in their opening encounter of the Asia Cup here at Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur on Tuesday.
Chasing a target of 304 set by India, Sri Lanka started off rather ominously only to lose track of the chase owing to some tight bowling lead by Irfan Pathan (8.1-1-32-4) and Ravichandran Ashwin (9-0-39-3).
For Sri Lanka, the captain stepped up again as he racked up 78 runs in just 59 balls first up and along with Kumar Sangakkara (65) kept the islanders on track chasing 304, but the rest of the batsmen failed to make any significant contributions down the order.
Delhi lads steamroll Lanka bowling
Facing the Lankans first up in the Asia Cup was in a way chance at redemption for the Indians after a dismal CB series. After being put into bat by Jayawardene, India had a disappointing start as Sachin Tendulkar was out to a Suranga Lakmal full toss for just six runs. Without Malinga in the squad, the early breakthrough would have been bonus for Lanka but Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli ensured that the Lankans would not celebrate another wicket for the next 37 overs.
In an absolute belter of a track like Mirpur where the ball stopped occasionally, both the Delhi lads got the measure of the pitch quickly and started the 205-run partnership without much hoopla. With the ball coming at knee length rather than at chest, both where at ease hitting in the conventional ‘V’ rather often and coupled with some good running between the wicket, there was no stopping the duo.
Their innings was identical to say the least with Kohli amping up the tempo later in the innings with some ariel shots. The always proactive Jayawardene was clearly out of ideas to break the partnership and without his prime bowler Malinga to bank upon, he had to do with his part-time spinners. Gauti in particular enjoyed milking them, occasionally dancing down the track for quick singles and doubles.
The fielding, which generally is the highlight of the Sri Lankan outfit was sloppy. Dinesh Chandimal who was the culprit of dropping absolute dollies in Australia spilled a very crucial chance of dismissing Gambhir when he was on 37. Misfields from generally reliable Nuwan Kulasekara and even Jayawardene did not help their cause.
Though, both Kohli and Gambhir notched up a partnership of 205, the run-rate was a manageable 5.54 runs per over courtesy tight bowling by Lakmal and Mahroof in the middle overs. But without the penetrative effect of taking wickets, Lanka where under the scanner for a run feast in the death overs and that is what exactly happened.
Raina and Dhoni come to the party
When Mahroof scalped both Gambhir and Kohli in the same over, it seemed that the momentum might have been halted and India might as well experience their death over collapse. But, this being the subcontinent, Dhoni and Raina knew they were on familiar territories as they started the thrust from a well laid platform by the Delhi lads. The last 10 overs produced 95 runs and the last 5 were milked for 63. Raina’s 17-ball 30 included his trademark one-knee hoicks towards deep midwicket and Dhoni’s 26-ball 46 had his helicopters and inside out hoists.
Jayawardene packs a punch first up
If brute force and bludgeoning hits dominated India’s later part of the innings, Sri Lanka took off as smoothly as ever with the elegance of Jayawardene as he coupled it with controlled aggression to take India by the scruff of its neck first up.
Comeback man Irfan Pathan removed Dilshan early, but he, including Praveen Kumar looked hapless against the class of Mahela Jayawardene. Pathan was swinging the ball in but Jayawardene picked one from his pad and with the swing played it high over the deep square-leg boundary. The ball reached second tier of the stadium. That was the shot of the day.
By the first 10 overs, Lanka had reached an impressive 65/1 and along with Sangakkara, Mahela had Lanka coasting along at 124/1 in the 19th. Mahela though perished at the wrong time as he dabbed one straight to Dhoni off the bowling of Pathan. A magnificent innings coming to an early end. This was the opening Dhoni needed.
With the track slowing down, Dhoni got in his slow bowlers -- Ashwin, Raina, Rohit Sharma and Ravinder Jadeja. Sangakkara though played sensibly against Ashwin but hammered the likes of Jadeja and Raina. It seemed Sangakkara could take Lanka all the way. But the 33rd, 34th and the 35th saw Lanka getting 11 runs combined and with the mandatory batting powerplay coming up, pressure started to mount on Sanga.
Lanka start to crumble
The very first ball of the batting powerplay proved to be the turning point of the match as a frustrated Sangakkara went for slog sweep only to be holed out in the deep. India sighed a breath of relief. From there on the inexperienced Lankan middle-order choked under pressure and wickets started to fall in quick successions. Ashwin got Thirimanne in the same over as Sanga’s wicket and then Vinay Kumar also picked up two in 1 over. Mahroof (18) tried to get some quick runs but he was also out trying. Pathan came back for the final spell and scalped Seekkuge Prasanna in the very first ball to end the match 4.5 overs early as Sri Lanka where bolwed out for 254 runs.