Lakmal’s fiery spell helps Sri Lanka end 12-match losing streak

Vicious movement and clueless batting went hand in hand to trigger a mighty Indian collapse and a nightmarish start to Rohit Sharma’s maiden captaincy stint as Sri Lanka registered a seven-wicket victory in the opening ODI in Dharamsala on Sunday (December 10). Suranga Lakmal, who bowled all his 10 overs in one go, finished with career-best figures of 4 for 13 to bowl India out for 112, despite a fighting half-century by MS Dhoni. In reply, Upul Tharanga’s positive batting set the tone for Sri Lanka in the chase while Angelo Mathews and Niroshan Dickwella provided the finishing touches as the visitors ended a 12-match ODI losing streak.

Lakmal and Angelo Mathews looked unplayable on a pitch that offered plenty of movement and caused wickets to go down like nine pins after the hosts were asked to bat. Sri Lanka laid bare the Indian batsmen’s technical deficiencies against moving deliveries with Lakmal and Co. bulldozing the Indian batting order, making merry on a pitch that Rohit had reckoned was a good one and had mentioned at the toss that he would have batted first anyway.

Sufficient movement off the pitch for Mathews and Lakmal helped them pick up the wickets of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit respectively, with Sri Lanka using the DRS to send back both openers. India’s middle-order batsmen had no answers to Lakmal, who along with Nuwan Pradeep, continued to make incisions. Dinesh Karthik departed for an 18-ball duck, Manish Pandey didn’t have it easy during his 15-ball stay for 2 while it was a tough initiation into ODI cricket for debutant Shreyas Iyer, who scratched around before chopping on a Pradeep delivery to depart for 9 off 27. With Hardik Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar also falling in quick succession – the latter becoming Lakmal’s fourth wicket – India were reduced to 29 for 7 in the 17th over.

First in danger of being bowled out for the lowest total in ODIs (35) and then the lowest total by India (54), the hosts were in dire need of a rearguard action. The resistance they were hoping for finally came in the form of an eighth wicket partnership between Dhoni and Kuldeep, who overcame Lakmal and Pradeep’s steam-rolling spell to help India go past their lowest ODI total. Skipper Perera, who decided to bring himself into the attack, ended up conceding 21 runs off his first three overs as Dhoni and Kuldeep scored a flurry of boundaries.

The fighting stand, worth 41 runs, was cut short as Kuldeep failed to have his back-foot planted inside the crease when he missed a turning delivery from Akila Dananjaya. Sachith Pathirana then managed to sneak one through Jasprit Bumrah’s defences to leave India nine down. But Dhoni continued the fight from his end, managing the strike well while finding the boundaries to register a fine half-century. A six over mid-off, standing on the back-foot, was the shot of the day as Dhoni made it seem like he was batting on a different pitch altogether. Bringing up a 78-ball fifty, Dhoni helped India past the 100-run mark in the 37th over. However, he was the last to depart when he hit a Perera delivery straight to sweeper cover as India’s innings came to an end in the 39th over.

Sri Lanka too struggled at the start of the chase, losing Danushka Gunathilaka to a poor stroke off Bumrah while Lahiru Thirimanne chopped on a Bhuvneshwar delivery. However, in between those dismissals, Bumrah had committed the grave error of over-stepping which earned Upul Tharanga a reprieve and the former skipper capitalised on that by finding the ropes regularly to help Sri Lanka make good progress.

Although Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar were beating the bat consistently, there were a few times when they erred with their line and lengths, and were made to pay by Tharanga. With two fours apiece off the opening bowlers and Pandya in successive overs, Tharanga helped Sri Lanka past 50 in the 11th over and managed one more boundary off Pandya a short while later before edging to Dhawan at first slip.

Mathews and Niroshan Dickwella then put on a steady stand, ensuring a regular flow of boundaries. In contrast to the Indian middle-order batsmen, who had to curb their instincts and battle for survival, the Sri Lankan batsmen maintained a positive run-rate which invariably translated into good progress despite a few wickets. The Indian bowlers too lost their steam as Sri Lanka took good strides through a good stand between Mathews and Dickwella, and the fourth wicket pair remained till the end to help Sri Lanka register the biggest win in India in terms of deliveries to spare.

Brief scores: India 112 in 38.2 overs (MS Dhoni 65, Kuldeep Yadav 19; Suranga Lakmal 4-13, Nuwan Pradeep 2-37) lost to Sri Lanka 114/3 in 20.4 overs (Upul Tharanga 49, Niroshan Dickwella 26*; Jasprit Bumrah 1-32) by 7 wickets.

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