Matthews wins Lanka a thriller
by Rohit Sakunia

Scorecard:India v Sri Lanka
Player:V Kohli, MS Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, TM Dilshan, AD Mathews
Event:Sri Lanka in India 2009/10

DateLine: 18th December 2009


It was a good pitch at Nagpur with something in for everyone. If the batsmen enjoyed true bounce, the bowlers were always interested as the track had spin, seam and bounce for bowler all kinds. The batsmen though came out eventual winners again and the spectators were enthralled with more than 600 runs scored in a day. As regards the winners, Sri Lanka, courtesy smart cricket pulled of the game and squared the series 1-1 after the second ODI.


At many stages today, it looked that the game might just follow the script of the first ODI but all the Lankan batsmen were cautious of their mistakes in the last game. The openers again lead from the front providing the middle order the foundation to build on for a chase of 300 plus and a blend of matured and fickle batting from the middle and late-middle order made sure the tourists reached home with 3 wickets in hand. It was Angelo Matthews who like the first ODI again came to rescue after a couple of wickets everytime the Lankans settled in, disturbed their rhythm. This time he finished the formalities and did not fell just at the brink of it.


Chasing a mammoth 302 to win and square the series, Sri Lanka again started in magnificent fashion, courtesy the left-hand, right-hand opening combination of Upul Tharanga and Tillekratne Dilshan. The duo like the first ODI again started of in whirlwind style and took the Indian bowling attack by surprise. It was Tharanga who started the onslaught but sooner Dilshan took over and upstaged him. Runs flew in from all corners and of all bowlers as Dilshan cut, drove and thumped the leather with absolute aplomb and ruthlessness. If Nehra was carted over his head by the left-hander, Zaheer was taken care by the wily Dilshan, who smacked him across his wickets for many a boundaries.


The only improvement that the Indian seamers showed from the last time was that they didn't give much room to Dilshan but the smart batsmen that the Lankan opener is, he made sure he improvised and took many a boundaries of the straighter ones from the left-arm seamers. The slower deliveries which proved very beneficial for the Lankans when they bowled were still an absent force from the Indian armoury. It was only when Praveen Kumar came in for a second spell that he bowled three of those and the results were immediate. Only four runs came of the over and for the first time in the innings sanity returned for the Indian pacers.


The hundred was up in as early as the thirteenth over and at that stage 300 looked easily attainable. Harbhajan though brought something back for the hosts. He sent left-hander Tharanga packing after the batsman tried to push him across the line but the ball spun and left him, only to take an edge for Sehwag at slip. For a moment it seemed this could had been an opening but Sangakkara came in and from the very outset started to middle the ball. Runs continued to come easily and in overs where the batsmen found it little difficult, the Indians gifted them overthrows, one of them in an over where Zaheer had almost strangulated both the batsmen.


Then came the bigger opening. At a time when it seemed a wicket could have come from nowhere, against the run of play Dilshan called Sangakkara for a single and then denied. The Lankan skipper with nowhere to go found himself well short and the hosts courtesy this wicket had put their foot between the door.


Dilshan, who could have easily been rattled by the happening did not get perturbed. In the company of Mahela Jayawardene, the opener cut down on boundaries and as the situation demanded got his runs via singles and twos. He had seen his side waste a golden oppurtunity of a record chase last time and this time around he wanted to finish the job all by himself. He brought up his 100 with a single of Nehra and immediately dispatched two boundaries on the on-side. These boundaries came after 12 overs and with these hits Sri Lanka again sat pretty with the run-rate well under control.


Seeing that nothing worked for him, Dhoni brought back Nehra in the attack. The left-armer struck and sent back Dilshan with a scorching yorker that went under the bat of the right-hander. That gave India the opening and the run-rate very obviously dipped. The singles now started to look difficult and seeing that his bowlers had put some pressure on the tourists, Dhoni opted for his strike bowler to turn the heat on the guests. Zaheer was brought in and like all Dhoni's decisions today, this one also turned gold. The very first delivery got an outside edge and Mahela Jayawardene walked even though the umpire didn't look absolutely sure. The crowd was now irked up and the entire atmosphere had started to put immense pressure on the two relatively new Lankan players.


Matthews and Kandamby though werent the ones to wilt so easily under pressure. The duo slowly took the team closer and also picked up occasional boundaries, one of them was a brilliant late cut by Kandamby off Zaheer. This was the boundary that brought the required rate to 6 and from here on the hosts needed something special to get back. Zaheer Khan and Virat Kohli provided that magic for Team India. Sri Lanka took the batting powerplay in the 45th over and the ploy worked for the Indians. Zaheer tried his luck by coming around the wicket and in trying to get one over the mid-on fielder, Kandamby spooned one up and it took a magnificent effort by Kohli to catch that. India were back in the game and if something more was needed to establish that, Kapugedara's dismissal, clean bowled of a Zaheer Khan yorker did it for India.


Matthews though like the last game remained the nail in India's coffin. He hit two boundaries of Nehra's next over and brought back his side in the game. He kept struggling with fitness but did not disallow his physical pain to get to his mind. Wickets kept tumbling at the other end but the youngster who has impressed since putting his foot on Indian shores made sure he did not repeat his mistake of the last game, that of falling in the last over and gifting India the game. He finally finished the proceedings with 3 wickets in hand.


Earlier, Sri Lanka had a good start to the match after the Indian skipper won the toss and elected to bat first. There was news abuzz that this track like the last one would be a graveyard for bowlers all kinds and after Virender Sehwag despatched the first ball of the match to the fence, the belief of a Rajkot repeat only got stronger.


Unlike Rajkot though this pitch did its bit for the bowlers and with god bounce coming to the rescue of seamers, Sehwag sooner was a casualty. He tried to cut one which was way close to his body and fell in the first over itself. Dhoni this time refrained to come in at number three which sparked a number of questions on various networking sites. He sent the usual number three Gautam Gambhir who looked well during his brief stay but was unluckily dimissed when he called for a chancy run and collided with the bowler before mid-on took out the stumps. Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar then took over and after a good 62 run stand, Sachin threw it all, dancing down the track and missing a wrong one from Mendis only to be stumped.


All this while young Kohli did well and made sure he didn't bog down seeing the ball do a bit and the run-rate fall at decent speed. His first boundary came of a flick off the pads and then some drives through the cover for the same result stood him in for a long stay at the wicket. The right-hander was especially brutal on the newcomer Lakmal. This brutality against the newcomer made sure at least one boundary came in each of his first five overs, and he ended up with none for 57 from his eight.


While Kohli was taking of the run-rate, Dhoni was settling in for a big one. His average in Nagpur before this match was a staggering 124 and once he got going, he looked unstoppable as usual. Sri Lanka helped him in his approach, giving him at least three reprieves, one of them though came in as late as when he was on 94. Today though was his day. His decisions in the batting order where working considering Virat Kohli did more than good in the top order and even Raina did fantastically well in his position. At the 25 over stage India were doing well with Dhoni and Kohli setting it up for an assault later. Kohli reached his half-century off 57 balls but couldn't continue longer as walking across his stumps to the debutant, offspinner Suraj Randiv, Kohli was struck in line.


His dismissal though for not even a second let the momentum shift sides. Dhoni as he has always been was phenomenal in the middle-overs. He had by now tasted luck twice, rather thrice if we consider the chance at slip of his first ball as one, and he was determined not to let this lucky day go by without making it big. Slowly and steadily aided by singles and doubles he raised his 50 of 70 balls and then immediately made one disappear in the stands as if he wanted to celebrate the knock till then.


In the middle-overs boundaries didn't come in regularity still the run-rate hovered around 5 and whenever it fell, a boundary erected it back to the position of strength. Raina also seemed to learn from his skipper and didn't try anything extravagant till the announcement of the assault came. There were occasional boundaries from the willow of the left-hander and the cut between point and gully was as elegant as the best.


The batting powerplay was taken after 40 overs and both Dhoni and Raina had started to see the ball like a football by now. If till now it was about singles and doubles, the powerplay meant a flurry of sixes. Raina hit a couple down the ground and this bled the Lankans. the first three overs brought 35 and this was the first time in the game when 300 had started to look reality for the hosts. Raina brought up his 50 off 44 balls and the five-over powerplay block yielded 50. The left-hander fell shortly after,looking for his fourth six, only managing to find deep mid-wicket. Dhoni continued to run his luck as sooner Mendis dropped a sitter at cover when Dhoni was on 94. In the same over, the Indian skipper raised his century, his second in consecutive innings in Nagpur.


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