Looking back, there should never have been any doubt that India would chase down Sri Lanka’s 315 for six. Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli played strokes of great skill and daring, reflecting the mental makeup of modern-day batsmen.
Their double-century stand eased India to a seven-wicket win at the Eden Gardens. With the win, India clinched the series 3-1, with one more game to go at Delhi on Sunday. Gambhir was unbeaten on a splendid 137-ball 150.
The third-wicket partnership acquired a great deal of momentum when Gambhir and Kohli put on 50 runs off 34 balls. Kohli had a frightfully good over against Lasith Malinga, the latter’s first. The wristy flicks and nasty backfoot punch were part of the roster, and combined to produce 16 runs in the over.
Gambhir’s assault was less specific. The bread-and-butter whip off the pads was a deserving riposte to both Suranga Lakmal and Malinga.
Strangely, the batsmen could manage only 22 runs in the second Powerplay; but that aberration was rectified by Kohli. A rising, wide delivery from Malinga was powered through the off-side. Immediately, a frustrated Malinga responded within the legal limits with a bouncer.
Off-spinner Suraj Randiv was less easy to score off, but Kohli wasn’t to let a full-toss go without censure. His fifty was soon up off 52 balls.
Gambhir was equally dismissive of Randiv, and brought up his fifty off 51 balls. He went on to do further damage with a brutal cut for a boundary.
The duo then went on to spend a few comfortable overs with singles and twos, save for the odd gesture of release, as the innings drifted along contentedly. The Lankans were furiously working on the ball, which the dew had wreaked havoc upon, but it didn’t help much.
The duo’s pacing was admirable, with the 150-run partnership achieved off 142 balls. When the 200-mark was easily breached, Sangakkara looked to Tillakaratne Dilshan for the breakthrough. It very nearly worked when the off-spinner induced an edge from Kohli, only for Sangakkara to fumble all his attempts.
A chastening pull off Jayasuriya put Kohli in the 90s. Gambhir was into the 90s himself with a punch through square for a boundary. After teasing the restless crowd with singles, Kohli and Gambhir brought up their centuries off successive deliveries off Dilshan.
Kohli’s magnificent innings ended when he went for the heave over long-on, for substitute Muthumudalige Pushpakumara to cling on to it just in front of the ropes. But Gambhir appeased fears with a fearsome hit over mid-wicket and the much-loved upper-cut, off debutant Thissara Perera, both fetching him boundaries.
A few scintillating boundaries later, India was home, finishing with the highest total at the Eden Gardens.
Gambhir and Kohli’s efforts denied Upul Tharanga’s 128-ball 118 its due. The knock sufficiently made up for a slow start by the Lankans, after skipper Kumar Sangakkara chose to bat.
India began bowling and fielding with astounding vigour. Dilshan was allowed to begin with just a sedate push to mid-on, Ashish Nehra got the ball to move, and Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja and Suresh Raina were electrifying on the off-side.
Sri Lanka stuttered to eight runs in four overs and nine in five. Dilshan soon had enough of the great Indian opening resurgence and punched Nehra through covers for his first boundary.
For his part, Tharanga toyed with Nehra with a precarious wave, boundaries through long-on and a hit to the bowler, which Nehra dropped to restore the fielding’s earlier identity.
Dilshan departed to a rash pull, but Tharanga ensured the run-rate began its ascent. Ishant Sharma was hit for boundaries over backward point, as motionless fielders testified Tharanga’s hitting speed. The opener’s more aesthetic sensibilities quickly took over for two elegant boundaries through mid-off in the same over.
Tharanga and Kumar Sangakkara, who was earlier dropped by Harbhajan, ticked along at a comfortable rate. Tharanga soon brought up his 100, his seventh in ODIs, and his first in three years.
Sri Lanka lost both Sangakkara and Tharanga, but the lower-order chipped in to take the side to its total, after a floodlight failure significantly delayed the innings’ finish.
Indian skipper Sehwag said he was relieved his side had finished the series at Kolkata. “We don’t know about the Delhi wicket, so it was good to finish the match here, because it is a good batting wicket,” he said.
The captain praised the efforts of Gambhir and Kohli for their match-winning stand. “Full credit to Gautam for staying till the end. We knew that as long as we didn’t lose wickets, we were always in with a chance.
“Virat is a very talented player, and it’s good to see him score a hundred. Now he’s performing very well. I think the younger players are all doing very well,” he said.
Sehwag refused to blame his bowlers for Sri Lanka’s total. “I think their batsmen batted well, so we shouldn’t blame the bowlers. We can take a lot of heart from our performance here since we lost players to injuries. It’s always tough when you make changes, but it was an opportunity for the youngsters to perform,” Sehwag said.
Gambhir said building partnerships was crucial to India chasing the big total. “When we lost two wickets, it was important we built partnerships. I knew we could do it. We had big hitters down the order, we’re the No.1 Test team, so I knew we could do it,” he said.
“This is the first time I finished a match, I knew that if I stayed till the finish, we could win it.”
Gambhir, who was first named Man-of-the-Match, said he’d like to share it with Kohli.
Sangakkara said his bowlers cost the side the match. “Where we lost the game was when we didn’t bowl well having taken those first couple of wickets. There was nothing wrong in batting first after winning the toss. We wanted 300 and we got it,” he said.
“Our best bowlers need to take a hard look at themselves. We had three debutants, so our experienced guys needed to take wickets.”
The skipper praised Tharanga and Perera for their performances. “I think Upul batted very well. Perera also bowled well considering it was his first match,” he said.
On losing the series, he said, “We should have won at Rajkot. Though we won in Nagpur it wasn’t enough, and we were bad at Cuttack. But we have a lot of positives, like Upul’s and Dilshan’s batting, and our new-ball bowlers.”
Sri Lanka: U. Tharanga b Zaheer 118 (128b, 14x4, 2x6), T. Dilshan c Kohli b Nehra 9 (19b, 1x4), S. Jayasuriya c Tendulkar b Zaheer 15 (15b, 3x4), K. Sangakkara st. Karthik b Harbhajan 60 (72b, 5x4), M. Jayawardene (run out) 33 (30b, 5x4), T. Perera c Jadeja b Nehra 31 (14b, 4x4, 1x6), T. Kandamby (not out) 23 (15b, 4x4), T. Samaraweera (not out) 13 (7b, 1x4); Extras (lb-3, w-10): 13. Total (for six wkts. in 50 overs): 315.
Fall of wickets: 1-31 (Dilshan), 2-72 (Jayasuriya), 3-198 (Sangakkara), 4-234 (Tharanga), 5-271 (Perera), 6-287 (Jayawardene).
India bowling: Zaheer 10-0-49-2, Nehra 9-1-68-2, Ishant 7-0-67-0, Harbhajan 10-0-53-1, Jadeja 9-1-51-0, Sehwag 3-0-15-0, Raina 2-0-9-0.
Powerplays: One (Overs 1-10): 45/1; Bowling (11-15): 46/1; Batting (41-45): 54/1.
India: V. Sehwag c Dilshan b Lakmal 10 (10b, 2x4), S. Tendulkar c Randiv b Lakmal 8 (8b, 2x4), G. Gambhir (not out) 150 (137b, 14x4), V. Kohli c Pushpakumara b Randiv 107 (114b, 11x4, 1x6), D. Karthik (not out) 19 (22b, 1x4); Extras (lb-5, w-16, nb-2): 23. Total (for three wkts in 48.1 overs): 317.
Fall of wickets: 1-13 (Sehwag), 2-23 (Tendulkar), 3-247 (Kohli).
Sri Lanka bowling: Perera 9-0-66-0, Lakmal 10-0-55-2, Malinga 9.1-0-75-0, Randiv 10-0-57-1, Jayasuriya 7-0-42-0, T. Dilshan 3-0-17-0.
Powerplays: One (Overs 1-10): 74/2; Bowling (12-16): 22/0; Batting (45-49.1): 37/0.