Cricket is a game of “Glorious Uncertainties” . This age old statement again got full marks in the 2nd ODI in Pallekale where India, leading 1-0 in the series , were up against a rather innocent Sri Lankan side. It’s quite rare now-a-days, to distinguish one particular limited over game, from hundreds of them being played all across the world; but this game was one heck of an ODI that both the countrymen will remember, for really a long time. Sri Lanka after losing the toss for the fifth time in this series, were sent to bat by the “chase-master” Virat Kohli , they managed to put on a rather unconvincing total of 236 in 50 overs losing 8 wickets. They did start well with the openers , Dickwella and Gunathilaka finding boundaries here and there . But Sri Lanka again, were undone by the failure of their middle order as Indian bowlers started taking wickets at a regular interval .It was only due to a stout partnership of 91 runs for the 6th wicket between Siriwardana and Kapugedara, that the Sri Lankans ultimately surpassed their previous total in the 1st ODI. The second 50 over session, which did got curtailed to 47 overs (DLS revised target 231) due to rain; was the one session, which got all the fans enthralled to their core and really compelled them to witness one of the finest game of cricket, which India won by 3 wickets, largely owing to MS Dhoni and Bhuvneswar Kumar ;taking their side home, with 2 and a half overs to spare. There were, quite surprisingly, many takeaways from these 92 odd overs which we will try to comprise now.
Late innings recovery after Mid innings crisis:
Sri Lanka after losing the 1st game might have said to themselves that, let’s play out the 50 overs; as it was ringing in their captain Upul Tharanga’s tone ,made a fundamental mistake of not playing their natural game. As soon as the decent opening partnership got broken, a wind of over-caution seemed large over them. Kushal mendis took 48 odd deliveries for a mere 19 odd runs whereas Angelo Mathews also looked tentative in his knock of 20 runs in 40 deliveries. And then there was this impeccable capability of Indian bowlers to pick up wickets at regular interval which made them reel down at 121 runs on the board, with half of the team resting in pavilion. But then came Siriwardane and Kapugedara , both fighting for their places in the side. They proved that, once you apply yourselves properly there’s no need to be over-cautious. Together they stitched a partnership of 91 runs which was invaluable in Lankan point of view. Siriwardene played, a run-a-ball innings of 58 runs, in which he never looked blistering, because he ran between the wickets so well and played sensible shots and held up his natural game. Kapugedara while playing a second fiddle, gave him enough support to make Indian bowlers frustrated, for quite a while. This 91 run partnership in 16 odd overs without that much of a hard hitting should prove a point to the rest of the Lankan Batsman that you can be positive even if you’re looking to play full 50 overs, only when you play your natural game; and this lesson should make them look a better batting unit in the matches to come.
Brilliant opening partnership between Gabbar and Rohit
Unlike Sri Lanka there wasn’t a much of caution thrown in the wind when India started their innings and why would it be? 231 in 47 overs wasn’t that much of an issue to this Indian batting side but still India needed a strong build-up to their chase. Rohit sharma and the ”Gabbar” , Shikhar Dhawan exactly did that. They played the fearless brand of cricket they had been playing, notching up 109 runs in an opening partnership in just 16 overs. Rohit, who doesn’t have his side of record in Lankan soil to back him, played a flamboyant knock of 54 in just 45 deliveries and never looked in any sort of trouble against the Lankan quicks. Gabbar on the other hand was just carrying his form from the last match and made batting look so easy for his 50 ball 49 runs knock. Chasing a moderate target of 231, together they did give the best of the starts India could have hoped for. It was their fluent opening partnership, which enabled India to afford for the recovery after a middle order collapse .Sanjay Bangar will hope this openers will continue to do so till they are comparable to a quite resembling Tendulkar-Ganguly pair.
Another Lankan mystery bowler Dhananjaya
His name is Akila Dhananjaya. A 23 year old rookie, who was supposed to be an off spinner, but didn’t seem so with his bowling action . Introduced to International cricket by the legend Mahela Jayawardene, in World T20, no one seemed to care about him until this day. He came to bowl when Indian openers were cruising to a seemingly, another comfortable victory. He realized that he needed to pull out some tricks, out of his hat, to unsettle this famed Indian batting line up. First he picked up Rohit Sharma, who got out to a harmless leg-spinner which he played across to sweep and got beaten by the flight. There had been till then ,329 runs in 44.2 overs between a single Sri Lankan bowler picking up an Indian wicket in this tour. And then in the space of 15 balls Akila Dhananjaya had four and in his fifth over he claimed his 5th wicket! It was nothing short of a wonder as Indian batsman including Virat Kohli looked clueless against his bowling. Well they had to be clueless, as who can possibly imagine of an off-spinner , turning his fingers around the white ball in a leg-spinner manner ; and then making it spin like an off spinner. A spinner who does his off spin by a Googly which is rather tough to recognize; due to the uncharacteristic movement of his nimble fingers; and occasionally spin it other way in the same manner ,but with a minimal change in action, is really hard to get used to. On the top of it, his flight and the length of the deliveries were wonderful to watch as he used these with the clever little variations, which made him unplayable for some time. It will be a controversial debate, that why Tharanga didn’t let him bowl his full quota in that spell itself! Having all said and done, it remains to see whether he ends up like another Lankan mystery bowler Ajantha Mendis; or he can change the definition of an Offspinner’s DOOSRA, as the first one to do it.
Record 8th wicket Partnership between MAHI and BHUVI
It’s now almost a decade that Dhoni’s bat speaks whenever his critics speaks against it. Well that’s normality for all the cricket fans who have been following this legendary Indian player. But what’s not normality for them, is seeing Mahi finishing a game when India was 131/7 and still hitting a solitary boundary with a strike rate of almost 67 . And that’s exactly what he did for the team’s cause. India was reeling at 131/7 in the 22nd over itself and had another 100 runs to score with all the recognized batsman back to hut. All, except the sea of calmness, Mr. Mahendra Singh Dhoni! Harsha Bhogle once said if you preserve all the calmness of MSD ,there won’t be any stress in the world. And how amazingly did he justify it.! His team had 25 overs still to bat and there was only 3 batsmen remaining ; and how could he make that chase without installing the same belief in his partner that he always had. And so, Dhoni took the risk of exposing a rather informal batsman in the shape of Bhuveneswar Kumar. There were multiple occasions in which Dhoni took a single off the first ball and Bhuvi had to play out the rest of the over. And oh good lord! What extent of this exposure did cause Bhuvi’s confidence to reach the sky level! A very confident ‘first class’ all-rounder, who got rare opportunities of showing his batting skills in International Cricket , Bhuvneswar Kumar made a lot of account of him. Not as the dangerous swing bowler, but, as a batsma!. He faced most of the deliveries in their partnership which did a hell lot of good to his confidence. He started playing positively taking singles and even doubles showing his ex-captain, that he did not make any mistakes, in allowing him to play more balls. Mahi and Bhuvi had a bit of history supporting them as they had one 140 run partnership in 2013 against Australia in a Test match. But this was entirely a different forma;t but still history repeated itself, as they stitched the highest 8th wicket partnership between them and took India home with 2 and a half overs remaining. There was a bit of luck going MSD’s way as a Vishwa Fernando delivery in 35th over as the pacer forced an inside edge onto his pad and eventually onto the stumps. But the new ‘Zing” bails-a bit heavier than the normal ones didn’t dislodge and neither did Dhoni ; as the master and the student helped India cross the rope . And in this one, the student outclassed the master, and master took happiness from that fact only!
It was one hell of a limited overs’ game, which saw Sri Lankans lose their 800th ODI to the Indian side, led by Virat Kohli, playing his 300th ODI . But most importantly, this match re-assured the cricket lovers , that cricket has still retained its actual identity- “A Game of Glorious Uncertainties”.