Sri Lankan wicketkeeper Kusal Mendis had a nightmarish outing in Guwahati. He dropped Virat Kohli on 52, facilitating his 73rd international century. No amends were then made with the bat as Mohammad Siraj bowled him neck and crop for a duck. There are days in cricket when everything you touch turns to gold, but interspersed through a career are ordeals like this when everything that can go wrong goes terribly wrong. The failure to do his bit in a steep chase is excusable, but reprieving an ODI giant on a featherbed amounts to a cardinal sin.
For, Kohli went on to ensure India outbatted Sri Lanka from the contest, building on the robust platform laid by Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill who added 143 from 118 balls for the opening wicket. Dilshan Madushanka was a bundle of nerves on debut, eschewing the lethal inswingers from over the wicket too soon in favour of defensive lengths, which Gill hammered for a hat-trick of boundaries. Blessing Muzarabani may have recently had Rohit nailing a pull down backward square leg’s throat, but Kasun Rajitha’s attempts at an encore were met with cocksure pulls that yielded 17 off an over.
The introduction of spin only oiled the wheels of India’s juggernaut, with the openers targeting the inexperienced Dunith Wellalage in particular. Hundreds were there for the taking given the combination of an unimposing attack, an idyllic surface and a lightning fast outfield, but Gill and Rohit, whose last ODI ton came in January 2020, succumbed to complacency, a state of mind batters are prone to slip into when conditions allow them to rule the roost.
“I was definitely disappointed when I got out on 70 because I had done all the hard work to get going and get a big one for the team,” Gill admitted. It opened a window of opportunity for Sri Lanka to dam up the runs, and Shreyas Iyer’s miscued sweep vitalized their newfound hope of restricting India to a below-par score.
However, fresh off a century against Bangladesh, Kohli stood in the way. He got full value for his sweetly-timed shots, be it the whip on the move off Dasun Shanaka or the punchy drive off Madushanka. Even though Wellalage varied his pace to string a couple of dry overs, Kohli gave Dhananjaya de Silva the charge to hoick a six over mid-wicket and accomplish his fifty. India were 258/3 after 36 overs when Mendis shelled the sitter, and ended up with 373/7 thanks to Kohli’s gap-threading strokeplay and vibrant hustle between the stumps.
Sri Lanka wrapped up the innings quite professionally, giving away just 38 in the final five, but India still had on the board a total that cushioned against the abnormal amount of dew. The importance of that buffer became extremely apparent as Shanaka, at the zenith of his powers, took the game deep.
“I kind of had to bat through the innings, like I usually do in one-day cricket, while still keeping my strike rate high, because we needed to get a big score as the dew is going to be a factor,” Kohli analysed in the innings break. ”I am just happy I was able to play with the tempo of the game and make sure that we got not just 340 but 370-plus.”
The performances of Rohit, Kohli and Gill are bright positives for India as preparations kick off for the 2023 World Cup at home. While Gill got the captain’s nod over Ishan Kishan despite the southpaw slamming the fastest double hundred in ODI history, Umran Malik pipped Arshdeep Singh to the post as India envisage a middle-overs enforcer in the tearaway quick. Guilty of spraying the ball around when India fast tracked him into the national set-up, Umran is exercising much more control over his line and lengths now as a direct consequence of elite mentorship. He bounced out the graceful Pathum Nissanka, strangled Charith Asalanka down the leg and hurried Wellalage into submission while clocking 156kmph in the process.
Fortune smiled upon him in Asalanka’s dismissal with the ball grazing the thigh pad, but ”luck plays a big part,” as per Kohli, who escaped twice en route to his 9th ton versus Sri Lanka – the most by an Indian batter against the islanders.
”You can just bow your head down and thank God on these kinds of evenings when luck goes your way a little bit. We tend to get frustrated when luck doesn’t go our way. But these evenings are very important to remember as well,” Kohli said thoughtfully.
“I could have been out for 50-odd and ended up getting a hundred because of luck. I am pretty aware of that, so I am just grateful and thankful that I was blessed with this little bit of luck today. The important thing was to make the most of it.”