Mahinda Wijesinghe, in The Sunday Island, 10 June 2017 with title “A ‘practice game’ that became a nightmare to the Indians”
All the chips were down for Sri Lanka having to meet upbeat host India at the Oval, especially after the latter’s resounding win by 124 runs a few days earlier against arch-enemy Pakistan at Edgbaston. Acting captain Upul Tharanga, who top-scored (57) in the previous game had been suspended for two games due to slow over-rate by the bowlers during Sri Lanka’s loss to South Africa. Skipper Mathews, returning to the side to play an ODI since August last year, announced that he will not be able to bowl; this meant a seam bowler short. The woes were adding fast. Indeed, in pre-match banter, wicket-keeper Dickwella mentioned that the Indians had stated they (the Indians) were taking this as a ‘practice match’!
Batting first, India rattled up a seemingly match-winning total of 321/6 in 50 overs, thanks in the main to the openers Dhawan (125) and Rohit Sharma (78) along with a blitz of an innings by Dhoni (63*). Sri Lanka’s three seam bowlers were taken apart with each of them conceding over seven runs/over, after each bowled their full quota yet again emphasizing the inability of Mathews of bowling a few overs to relieve the front-line seamers.
In this scenario, the game actually seemed a walk in the park for the Indians, or as they claimed earlier this was a mere practice game! After all, chasing a total of 321 runs, Sri Lanka would have to create a record in the history of the Champions Trophy tournament if they successfully reached this mark. The beginning of the Sri Lankan innings was not auspicious as Dickwella committed hara-kiri by practically throwing his wicket with the total at a mere 11 runs. Then came the sublime partnership of 170 runs – and the foundation for this amazing victory – between Man of the Match, Kusal Mendis (89 in 93 balls) and Dhanushka Gunatilleke (76 in 72 balls). Now the stage was slowly but surely being set.
The Indians were by then slowly feeling the heat. Even skipper Virat Kohli had a bowl. Then came two tragic run outs, both due to ‘direct hits,’ as heroes Mendis and Gunatilleke were dismissed in quick succession. Kusal Janith Perera and skipper Angelo Mathews were now associated in what appeared a solid partnership towards the target. Unfortunately, the former had to ‘retire hurt’ from the field with cramp after a fighting 47 (44 balls) with the total tantalizingly at 271. Would there be another twist in the tail?
Three of the four wickets had not been claimed by the Indian bowlers. Panic had completely set in and the Indians were in mid-field discussions about how to stem the Lankans’ march. A few Indian spectators were observed leaving the ground. Skipper Mathews now took charge (52*in 45 balls) and with Asela Gunaratne (34* in 21 balls) played two well-timed cameo innings and rubbed the Indians in the dust with a partnership of 51 runs scoring a well-earned victory with eight balls to spare.
This historic win would add oodles of confidence to the (mostly) young Sri Lankan players in the side but also keeps our chances alive in the tournament.