Virat Kohli was high on octane and low on sympathy for the bowlers. The feisty right-hander's hurricane 86-ball unbeaten 133 was the principal force behind India achieving the near impossible against Sri Lanka at the Bellerive Oval here on Tuesday.
India pulled off a heist even as the Sri Lankans were left rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Playing out of his skin — he whipped and drove Lasith Malinga with power and precision — Kohli was the Man-of-the-Match.
Requiring to chase down 321 in only 40 overs to win with a bonus point and stay in the hunt, India's mission was accomplished in 36.4 overs for the loss of just three wickets. For the Sri Lankans and the expensive Malinga, it was a nightmare under the lights.
India is now level with Sri Lanka on 15 points in the Commonwealth Bank triangular series and will go through to the finals if Australia defeats Mahela Jayawardene's team in the last league game in Melbourne on March 2.
The surface was flat and the ground small yet the Indians deserve credit for keeping the faith and sending the Sri Lankans on a leather hunt. This was an epic pursuit.
Kohli and a rampant Suresh Raina (40 not out off 24) blitzed 120 runs off only 55 deliveries for the fourth wicket. And the last 40 deliveries of the contest fetched India a whopping 91 runs as the Sri Lankans lost the plot.
Sri Lanka, asked to bat, had made 320 for four in 50 overs with Tillakaratne Dilshan (160 not out) and Kumar Sangakkara (105) assuming centrestage.
A simple victory for India would have led to India's exit from the competition. Dhoni's men had other ideas.
On his part, Jayawardene blundered by taking the bowling Power Play as late as in the 28th over — India was bound to complete the batting Power Play inside the 40th over. This meant India had 10 overs of Power Play in the last 13 overs. Kohli and Raina made the Lankan pay.
India rattled up a whopping 97 for the loss of two wickets in the first 10 overs of Power Play. In the bowling Power Play — overs 28 to 32 — India collected 58 for the loss of a wicket. And in the 4.4 overs of the batting Power Play — between 33 and 36.4 — India plundered 64 runs. Two overs — the 31st and 35th — had a huge bearing on the result. Seamer Nuwan Kulasekara was creamed for 18 runs in the 31st over. Raina off-drove the paceman majestically and then Kohli flicked and cover-drove with panache.
Then, in the 35th over, Malinga was hammered for 24 runs. Kohli thwacked Malinga over mid-wicket for the maximum and then struck four successive boundaries on the leg-side. Malinga attempted yorkers but Kohli, shortening his back-lift, brought his strong wrists into play. As he was pounded, Malinga lost his line completely.
The left-right combination tormented the Sri Lankan bowling — Raina's six over square-leg off paceman Thisara Perera was a rousing blow — and it was puzzling why Sri Lanka's best bowler on the night, left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, sent down just four overs.
Despite the heroics from Kohli and Raina, this was a team effort. Openers Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag set up the chase with some sensational hitting up the order and the solid Gautam Gambhir consolidated India's position.
Sehwag blasted Kulasekara through mid-off, flashed the bowler past point before pulling Malinga for the maximum. The openers had put on 54 in only 6.2 overs when Sehwag miscued a pull off Farveez Maharoof. Tendulkar batted with aggression and freedom with a cover-drive off Kulasekara scorching the turf. The maestro was looking good for more when he played across a yorker from Malinga. Gambhir (63) worked the ball into the gaps, created room to drive majestically through covers, and ran hard between the wickets. He walked back after a fine Dinesh Chandimal throw from deep mid-wicket to bowler Mathews caught him short while attempting a second run.
The Indian bowling was limited by the conditions but the attack stuck to its task on a batting paradise.
Openers Dilshan and Jayawardene had put on 49 in 11.5 overs when the skipper, creating room to cut left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, offered a face-high catch to Sehwag at slip. Then, Dilshan and Sangakkara began a long association.
Dilshan batted with rhythm and fluency of movement. He got on to his front foot nicely to get to the pitch of the ball and found the gaps. He also rocked back for some vicious pulls and displayed soft hands for the glide and the cut.
Runs had largely eluded Sangakkara in the tournament. This time, he dug in. The feature of Sangakkara's batsmanship is the quickness with which he picks the length. The southpaw's pick-up hit off Umesh Yadav that soared over the mid-wicket fence was a top shot. Sangakkara was eventually castled by a Praveen yorker after the second-wicket pair had added 200 runs.
But then, Kohli had the last word.
Sri Lanka: M. Jayawardene c Sehwag b Jadeja 22 (33b, 1x4, 1x6), T. Dilshan (not out) 160 (165b, 11x4, 3x6), K. Sangakkara b Praveen 105 (87b, 8x4, 2x6), T. Perera (run out) 3 (3b), A. Mathews c Ashwin b Zaheer 14 (10b, 1x4), D. Chandimal (not out) 2 (2b), Extras (lb-3, w-11) 14, Total (four four wkts in 50 overs) 320.
Fall of wkts: 1-49 (Jayawardene), 2-249 (Sangakkara), 3-279 (Perera), 4-309 (Mathews).
India bowling: Zaheer 9-0-61-1, Praveen 9-0-64-1, Yadav 8-0-56-0, Jadeja 9-0-43-1, Ashwin 9-0-52-0, Sehwag 3-0-24-0, Raina 2-0-17-0.
India: V. Sehwag c Dilshan b Maharoof 30 (16b, 5x4, 1x6), S. Tendulkar lbw b Malinga 39 (30b, 5x4), G. Gambhir (run out) 63 (64b, 4x4), V. Kohli (not out) 133 (86b, 16x4, 2x6), S. Raina (not out) 40 (24b, 3x4, 1x6), Extras (b-4, lb-6, w-6) 16, Total (for three wkts in 36.4 overs) 321.
Fall of wkts: 1-54 (Sehwag), 2-86 (Tendulkar), 3-201 (Gambhir).
Sri Lanka bowling: Malinga 7.4-0-96-1, Kulasekara 8-0-71-0, Maharoof 3-0-21-1, Perera 7-0-59-0, Mathews 7-0-44-0, Herath 4-0-20-0.