In his first three overs, bowled at the start of the match, R Ashwin bowled India to their first bilateral T20I series win at home. India bowled Sri Lanka out for their lowest total, 82, to retain their No. 1 ranking, which was on the line in the series decider. Ashwin’s 4 for 8 was the best figures for an Indian in T20Is, beating his own 4 for 11.
Ashwin’s immediate impact was crucial because the pitch turned square, and India might have unwittingly given Sri Lanka the second use of such a track. You couldn’t have faulted MS Dhoni, though: the pitch looked white, had zero moisture, and no big cracks. Given the dew expected later in the day, it seemed a prudent decision to ask Sri Lanka to bat because the pitch didn’t look like it would help spin anyway.
Just like in Pune where India were left thinking they would have been in the game had they scored 130 or so as opposed to the 101 all out, Sri Lanka could have given India a fight with a half-decent total because the ball turned square even for Ravindra Jadeja and Suresh Raina. Ashwin left them in no position to get a fighting total, though.
Ashwin, given the new ball, was happy to give it a rip and some flight, mixing in the seam-up delivery that swings away from the right-hand batsmen. Sri Lanka, though, came out with a plan to try to hit Ashwin out of the attack. Tillakaratne Dilshan faced the second ball of the match, got a single, and immediately signaled to his partner, Niroshan Dickwella that the ball was turning already. It didn’t have any impact on Dickwella, who left his crease early and walked past an offbreak that Ashwin bowled deliberately short.
In the same over, Dilshan was done in by a sharp offbreak from round the wicket, turning enough to beat the inside edge and hit his pad inside the line, but not turning too much to be given out lbw. If Dickwella played a headless shot, Dilshan’s was purely a bowler’s wicket: beaten on the forward defensive by the dip and the turn. Captain Dinesh Chandimal looked to counterattack, hit two fours off Ashish Nehra, but skied Ashwin in his second over. In his third over, Ashwin enjoyed some luck as debutant Asela Gunaratne was given out caught at leg slip off his pad. Ashwin had now reduced Sri Lanka to 20 for 4 in the fifth over. In a format not as versatile as the traditional ones, the damage had already been done.
The problem with the rest of Sri Lanka innings was twofold: the ball was turning, and the batsmen kept trying the big hits as opposed to looking for a partnership. This was quite similar to what happened with India even as the ball seamed in Pune. Milinda Siriwardana faced only two balls even though he spent three overs in the middle. The first one he pulled Jasprit Bumrah for four, but when he tried the pull second ball he chose a Nehra delivery that was not short enough and also skidded through to bowl him.
Only a high full toss from Yuvraj that went for six, and the free hit that was given repeat treatment by Dasun Shanaka gave Sri Lanka’s innings some momentum. Ashwin came awfully close to registering the first international five-for for India, but Jadeja and Raina kept the pressure up and the wickets kept falling. Jadeja’s brilliance showed in the field too, with a delicate back-hand flick to run Seekkuge Prasanna out and catch Thisara Perera in the deep.
Under hardly any pressure, India walked away to their target with 37 balls remaining even though the turning pitch made stroke-play difficult. Shikhar Dhawan again displayed his improved leg-side play in his run-a-ball 46 whereas question marks over Ajinkya Rahane’s hitting ability on slower surfaces remained as he mis-hit a few attempted big hits in his unbeaten 24 off 22. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)