Mar 07, 2018

Kusal Perera's assault helps SL hunt down 175

Sri Lanka rode a 22-ball fifty from Kusal Perera, and a proficient finish from Thisara Perera, to victory in the Nidahas Trophy opener against India, though the chase of 175 was not without its tense moments.

With four overs remaining in the chase, Sri Lanka needed 35 and had two relatively new batsmen at the crease. Although India's quicks were briefly ascendant, a six and a four down the ground from Thisara lurched Sri Lanka to the brink of victory. He would complete the win himself, with a swipe to the fine-leg boundary, with nine balls still left in the innings.

Asked to bat first, India had lost two early wickets, but mustered a competitive total thanks largely to Shikhar Dhawan, who made 90 off 49 balls - his best score in the format. Dhawan's 95-run stand with Manish Pandey was the centrepiece of India's innings, though perhaps they will be disappointed to not have made at least 10 runs more, given the position Dhawan had left them in. Two spinners - Jeevan Mendis and Danushka Gunathilaka - had taken a wicket apiece and kept the scoring in check through the latter half of the innings.

It was Kusal who had got Sri Lanka well ahead of the asking rate, and he had done it inside the Powerplay. He slog swept the second ball of his innings for six, and then really took flight in the next over - the third of the innings - bowled by Shardul Thakur. Kusal walloped the first ball nonchalantly over midwicket for four, the second he carved behind point, the third he drilled to the cover boundary, and the fourth - a slower delivery - was lifted over the long-on boundary. The bowler's mind muddled now, he sent a chest-high full toss at Kusal, who had no issues thumping the no-ball to the cover fence. Another four, this one smoked down the ground, brought the total for the over to 27. Only with the last ball did Thakur gain some respite - a short delivery was merely bunted to fine leg. India, however, were now scrambling to contain Kusal. His partner Danushka Gunathilaka would soon hole out to mid-off, but even he had hit three boundaries. Though Sri Lanka had lost both their openers by the end of the fifth over, they had hit 70 runs.

After the field restrictions were relaxed, Kusal hit only the occasional boundary, but the cushion of a fast start meant Sri Lanka's middle order could afford a few stutters. Dinesh Chandimal made an awkward 14 off 11 balls before being bowled by a quicker Yuzvendra Chahal delivery. Upul Tharanga batted at less than a run-a-ball for his 17. And though Kusal himself was dismissed with Sri Lanka still requiring 48 runs, the hosts batted deep enough to haul themselves across the target. Thisara's winning runs came in the company of Dasun Shanaka, who had more or less mis-hit his way to 15 off 18 balls.

Earlier, Dhawan's own innings had not been without good fortune. He mistimed three pull shots and saw each of those sail over fine leg for six - two coming in the same Nuwan Pradeep over. On 82, he edged a full delivery from Dushmantha Chameera behind, but wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal went at the ball with one glove instead of two, and grassed the chance.

Dhawan took more risks than virtually all his partners, and usually got enough bat on ball to survive the mis-hits. The intentional big shots - the two slog sweeps off the spinners and the wallop down the ground off Chameera - were well planned and disdainful. There was no area of the ground that he particularly favoured. Generally, he stayed in his crease to prey off the bad-length deliveries, and rarely let a scoring opportunity pass him by. His fifty was off 30 deliveries, and when he perished, holing out to long-off he had hit 90 of India's 153 runs.

Sri Lanka's victory against India - albeit against a weakened India side - was their first in eight attempts. Where they really set themselves apart was in the Powerplay. Sri Lanka were 75 for 2 after their first six overs. India had hit only 40 while losing two wickets - Chameera having been especially effective during that period.