Andrew Fidel Fernando
I. “Sri Lanka’s pole-thin co-operative,” ESPNcricinfo, February 2016
The pole-thin co-operative: Sri Lanka unearthed a skinny quick with serious potential in Dushmantha Chameera last year. In this match, Chameera may have played a role in finding another just like him. The second ball of Kasun Rajitha‘s career stopped slightly on Rohit Sharma, who spooned the ball just wide of the bowler. Chameera made quick ground moving to his right from mid-off, and dove athletically, both feet off the ground, to secure the catch. That first wicket sent Rajitha into raptures, and he would go on to set the tone for the innings with four more excellent balls in that over.
The drop and redemption: Rajitha should have had a third wicket when Suresh Raina’s outside edge sailed straight to Danushka Gunathilaka at third man. Only, the fielder followed the ball right into his palms, and still managed to spill it. Rajitha couldn’t get Raina in the end, but he did take Shikhar Dhawan’s outside edge in his next over. This one flew to third man as well, and this time, Gunathilaka moved quickly to complete a much tougher, running catch.
The batsman who can bowl a bit: Dasun Shanaka uprooted Raina’s leg stump, bounced MS Dhoni out, and trapped Hardik Pandya in front to claim innings-best figures of 3 for 16, but as he admitted later on, bowling isn’t even his main gig. He had only two T20 wickets from 26 matches before this performance, and was largely in the side for having struck two manic hundreds in a domestic T20 competition in January. “Most people only know about my batting,” he said in a mid-match interview.
The overeager tail-ender: Jasprit Bumrah had played four international matches prior to this game, but was yet to face a ball at the top level. R Ashwin thought he had given Bumrah that chance, when he scooped a ball towards fine leg and took a single in the 19th over, but Bumrah had other ideas. Haring back to the non-striker’s end for the second run, Bumrah suddenly realised Ashwin wasn’t responding. He skidded, then slipped in his efforts to turn back, but before he could lift himself off the ground, Sri Lanka had run him out.
II. “SL Seamers topple India on Green Track,” ESPNcricinfo, February 2016
Kasun Rajitha, Dushmantha Chameera and Dasun Shanaka – Sri Lanka’s lanky seam-bowling labour force – came upon a thoroughly surprising green Pune deck, and wound up delivering their team a surprisingly thorough victory. The three quicks took eight wickets for 59 between them, to blow India away for 101. Sri Lanka’s inexperienced batsmen were rarely at ease in pursuit, but did well enough to get to the target with five wickets in hand and two overs to spare.
Chameera had provided glimpses at his penetrative potential during the recent tour of New Zealand, but Rajitha and Shanaka had gone unheralded until today. If Binura Fernando – the left-arm quick – had not injured a hamstring ahead of this match, Rajitha might not even have debuted. Instead, he claimed two wickets in a tone-setting first over and finished with 3 for 29. Shanaka is in the team largely for his batting, but bowled magic deliveries through the middle overs, uprooting Suresh Raina’s leg stump with an in-dipper, and bouncing MS Dhoni second ball. He took 3 for 16.
Fresh from Australian run-gluts, India’s route to defeat was paved with over-ambition. Even after the pitch had proved itself spicy, big shots continued to be attempted. Edges kept being collected. Wickets continued to tumble. The biggest stand of their innings was between R Ashwin and Ashish Nehra, who put on 28 for the eighth wicket. Without Ashwin’s 31 not out, their total might have been closer to 80.
Sri Lanka’s innings appeared to be heading in the same direction at 23 for 2 in the fifth over, but Dinesh Chandimal and Chamara Kapugedera combined for 39 tension-relieving runs. Three late wickets fell, but the target was so small, even this scratchy batting performance was more than good enough. The victory puts Sri Lanka back on top of the ICC T20 rankings.
It was Rajitha who first put the fire in a young Sri Lanka team. Barely heard of before he took five wickets in a tour match against the Indians in August last year, he delivered an immaculate first international over, seaming the ball sharply away from right-handers, and generating fine pace and carry. His first wicket came second ball. The length delivery stopped a little on Rohit Sharma, who hit aerially down the ground. Chameera moved across from mid-off to help a stick-thin fast-bowling brother out, diving feet off the ground to pouch that catch. Clearly excited by that scalp, Rajitha ended the over with a seaming short ball at Ajinkya Rahane, whose leading edge carried to an advancing cover.
He had a catch dropped off Raina’s inside edge in between, but Rajitha soon had a third wicket, in the fifth over. Then Shanaka took over, bowling slower, but just as accurately. The Raina-Dhoni double blow in his first over put India at 51 for 5. It also doubled Shanaka’s wicket-tally in all T20s. He had played in 26 matches before this, and was called upon to bowl in less than a quarter of those games.
Chameera troubled the middle order with raw pace until Ashwin picked India off the floor with a sensible approach and excellent timing. He smoked Chameera through the leg side for four first ball, but largely awaited the bad deliveries to play his big shots. In the end, Ashwin just ran out of partners – Nehra succumbing to Chameera’s pace and Jasprit Bumrah running himself out, in the 19th over.
Nehra dismissed Sri Lanka’s openers, who were also guilty of attempting too many boundaries while the ball was still zipping around. Chandimal and Kapugedera were streaky but smart, looking for singles and twos, with the required rate always under a run-a-ball. Chandimal top-scored with 35, Kapugedera hit 25.
MS Dhoni banked on spin through the middle overs, and the slow bowlers did remove Kapugedara, Chandimal and, later, Shanaka. But Sri Lanka had stacked their side with allrounders again, and batted deep. Milinda Siriwardana was on hand to apply the finish, hitting 21 not out from 14. Ashwin was the best of India’s bowlers as well, picking up 2 for 13 from his three overs.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando
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