Axar Patel tried his absolute best with both bat and ball, but Dasun Shanaka continued his all-round domination of India to bring up a 16-run win for Sri Lanka in what turned out to be a thrilling T20 contest at MCA Stadium in Pune today.
Batting first, the visitors, helped by some shoddy Indian bowling, including seven very costly no-balls, racked up 206 for 6 in their 20 overs. Kusal Mendis (52 off 31) and Shanaka (56 not out off 22) were their top-scorers.
The Sri Lankan bowlers then broke India’s back, reducing the hosts to 57 for 5 in the 10th over. The chase seemed to be done and dusted at that stage, but Suryakumar Yadav and Axar staged a fightback for the ages, adding 91 runs off 40 balls for the sixth wicket. Even as Suryakumar fell, Axar and Shivam Mavi kept the game in the balance.
However, with India needing 21 to win off the final over, Shanaka picked up the ball for his first over, took two wickets and helped his side get over the line.
It started well enough for India. They won the toss and were able to bowl first to avoid fielding in the dew later on. Hardik Pandya bowled the first over and conceded just two runs. And then it all went downhill. Mendis went on a rampage as Sri Lanka smashed 45 runs in the next three overs to trigger panic in the India camp. Mendis raced to a 27-ball fifty.
Hardik had to rely on his spinners to pull things back. Axar and Yuzvendra Chahal put a lid on the scoring and picked up wickets at the same time. The duo conceded just 54 runs off their eight overs combined.
Arshdeep hasn’t played competitive cricket since the final ODI against New Zealand on November 30 and was bound to be rusty coming into this T20I. He was introduced in the second over and started off with a half-volley on the pads that was clipped through square leg. No fuss – first ball after a fairly long break, happens. The next four balls went for just a run. Then began a saga of inexplicable no-balls – three on the bounce in his first over. The first was sprayed down leg, the next flicked to deep backward square leg for a four and the third smoked over the fielder in the same region.
Arshdeep wasn’t brought back until the 19th over, and when he was, the horror no-balls continued. He bowled two more – Shanaka was caught at long-on off one of those – to finish with figures of 37 runs in two overs. His five no-balls changed the complexion of the game.
When the Sri Lanka captain walked out to the middle, his side had stuttered to 110 for 4 in the 14th over. He then saw Charith Asalanka and Wanindu Hasaranga fall to Umran Malik off successive balls and faced the hat-trick ball. One that he pumped straight over the bowler’s head. There was no stopping Shanaka thereon. He brought up his fifty off 20 balls, the fastest by a Sri Lankan in men’s T20Is, as they hammered 93 runs in the last six overs. Later, when the chase got tricky, he took it upon himself to bowl the final over, and picked up two wickets, giving away four runs.
Seeing how Sri Lanka finished off their innings might have given hope to India’s top order that the Pune surface was full of runs. They were in for a rude awakening. The Sri Lanka fast bowlers bowled with gusto and had the batters in all sorts of trouble. By the time the powerplay ended, the hosts had been reduced to 39 for 4, with all of Dilshan Madushanka, Kasun Rajitha and Chamika Karunaratne on the board.
India were languishing on 64 for 5 after 10 overs. With a long tail to follow, a heavy defeat seemed imminent. Then came a run-out chance, one that saw Axar and Suryakumar almost at the same end. Sri Lanka missed, and that turned a switch. Both Suryakumar and Axar went for their shots like two men possessed. Not one Sri Lanka bowler was spared and a required rate often near 15 was being managed fairly well. Axar brought up his fifty off 20 balls, Suryakumar off 33. Eventually, though, the target turned out to be a peak too big to scale.