India 213 (Rohit 53, Rahul 39, Wellalage 5-40, Asalanka 4-18) beat Sri Lanka 172 (Wellalage 42*, de Silva 41, Kuldeep 4-43, Bumrah 2-30, Jadeja 2-33) by 41 runs
On a surface where India picked three frontline spinners and lost all ten of their wickets to spin for the first time in ODIs, it was the quality of their fast bowlers that made the telling difference. Defending 214, India had Sri Lanka three down before their batters had faced a single ball of spin, and that had repercussions that rippled through the rest of the game.
Dhananjaya de Silva and Dunith Wellalage brought Sri Lanka’s equation down to 52 from 82 balls with a partnership of 63 at more than five runs an over, but crucially in the context of this game the stand was for the seventh rather than, say, the fifth wicket. Even as their spinners struggled to exert control over this pair, India knew that one wicket would open up the lower order.
In the end, India won by 41 runs, a misleading margin in a contest full of tension, and sealed a place in the Asia Cup final while ending Bangladesh’s chances. Sri Lanka’s winning streak came to an end after 13 ODIs, but one of their players remained proudly undefeated at the finish. Wellalage, all of 20 and playing just his 13th ODI, was unbeaten having top-scored with a fluent and precociously composed 42, and it was his less significant contribution to the match; he had looked unplayable at times while taking his maiden five-for earlier in the day, each of his victims a member of India’s top six.
The match was played on a different pitch to the India-Pakistan game, with far less grass cover, and India altered their attack in the clear expectation of turn. But it took until the 12th over of the game for evidence of just how much turn there would be, and how unpredictable it would be, as India’s openers followed up back-to-back century stands with a brisk partnership of 80. Rohit Sharma dominated the stand, hitting a flurry of boundaries including four fours off Dasun Shanaka in the tenth over and a straight six off Kasun Rajitha in the seventh that took him past 10,000 ODI runs.
Maheesh Theekshana had bowled inside the powerplay but it took the introduction of a traditional fingerspinner for the nature of the pitch to become clear. And it was immediate, with Wellalage getting his first ball to dip on Shubman Gill and turn past his outside edge to hit off stump. By his third over, Wellalage had sent back all of India’s top three. The balls that got him his second and third wickets showed how challenging the surface was: the first stopped on Virat Kohli to have him caught off an uppish flick, and the second skidded through low, with the angle, to bowl Rohit for 53 off 48 balls.
Ishan Kishan and KL Rahul steadied India with a fourth-wicket stand of 63, and it seemed, at 154 for 3 in the 30th over, that they were on course for at least 250. But Rahul fell to another ball that stuck in the pitch, followed by Kishan failing to get the desired elevation while looking to hit Charith Asalanka over short extra-cover. Wellalage then struck a critical blow with the last ball of his spell, finding sharp turn to have Hardik Pandya caught behind while defending. India needed to squeeze every drop from their extra batting depth, with the inclusion of Axar Patel at No. 8.
It wasn’t quite to be, even as Axar struck an important 26, with the part-time offspin of Asalanka claiming 4 for 18 in nine overs either side of a brief rain delay, in the clearest indication of how this pitch was playing.
Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj took the new ball from each end, and the the difference in quality between these two and Sri Lanka’s injury-hit pace attack was quickly evident, with the scorecard reading 25 for 3 inside the eighth over.
Both found early swing, but more significant was the movement and bounce they extracted by hammering away on the shorter side of a good length. And if those methods weren’t enough, there was Bumrah’s genius too: he followed a searing, stump-bound yorker to Kusal Mendis with a dipping slower delivery of similar length and wider line. With lbw in the back of his mind and his front leg wary of moving across his stumps, Mendis reached for the ball and spooned one to short cover.
Asalanka and Sadeera Samarawickrama brought Sri Lanka back into the game with a 43-run stand for the fourth wicket, before Kuldeep Yadav, fresh off a five-wicket haul against Pakistan, made his first incision. Having largely bowled his usual stump-to-stump line early on, he went wider and found sharp turn to stump a charging, flailing Samarawickrama.
Kuldeep and wicketkeeper Rahul then combined again to have Asalanka caught off the glove while sweeping, before de Silva and Shanaka staged a minor recovery. Ravindra Jadeja ended that partnership, changing ends and finding extra turn to have Shanaka caught at slip, and that ball illustrated his threat perfectly: he was getting some balls to turn and others to go with the angle from roughly the same area, while delivering with more or less the same release.
Axar, however, was struggling to replicate this two-way threat: he barely got anything to turn against his angle from wide of the crease, and de Silva in particular milked him. Axar eventually bowled only five overs, going 0 for 29.
De Silva and Wellalage continued to score quickly even after Axar’s removal from the attack, and began to play shots that may have worried India considerably. De Silva punched Bumrah crisply off the back foot for four behind point, and in the next over Wellalage slog-swept Kuldeep for the first six of the innings.
By the end of that over, the 33rd, the seventh-wicket pair had put on 49 in 47 balls. Bumrah, Hardik and Jadeja restored some control, though, as India conceded just nine runs in the next four overs. Wellalage then stepped out to drill Jadeja past mid-off for four, but de Silva’s couldn’t execute the same over mid on, and India had their opening. When Hardik sent Theekshana back with a slower ball in the 41st over, the end was near. It came swiftly, as Kuldeep bowled Kasun Rajitha with a wrong’un that was too good for a No. 10 before Matheesha Pathirana missed a sweep two balls later.
Wellalage was stuck at the other end watching this unfold, a fate that can often befall No. 8s. On the evidence of his innings, though, he won’t be batting there for much longer. When Wanindu Hasaranga returns from injury, Sri Lanka will have one hell of a selection headache.