ICC Champions Trophy 2017: Sri Lanka Hand India A Reality Check

To give you an idea of the magnitude of Sri Lanka’s achievement here, at the halfway stage, you could have got longer odds on them winning than on Jeremy Corbyn becoming the next prime minister. Yet on an overcast election day in south London, it was Sri Lanka who carved out the narrowest of majorities, even if in a packed crowd of over 22,000, their fans were very much the minority.

It was one of the finest one-day chases The Oval has seen, and given this ground’s rich history of limited-overs batsmanship, that is not a statement you make lightly. Against one of the shrewdest attacks in the world game, Sri Lanka hunted down India’s total of 321 with guts and precision. Afterwards captain Angelo Mathews, who helmed the chase with a fine 52 not out, dedicated the win to a country ravaged by floods that have killed more than 200 people and left more than 600,000 homeless.

In less pressing matters, a damp fuse of a tournament has quite startlingly caught light. And after Pakistan’s surprise win against Sri Lanka on Wednesday, here was another reminder that at the game’s sharp end, the margins are deceptively narrow. India hit eight sixes to Sri Lanka’s five, scored more runs in both the first 10 overs and the last 10 overs, ran and fielded better. But on a belting pitch taking little turn, their score of 321, boosted by Shikhar Dhawan’s effortless 125, was still around 20 short.

“We’re not invincible, you know,” shrugged captain Virat Kohli. “When you lose games of cricket you will find negatives. Sometimes you have to take your hat off and say: very well played.”

He was probably right. This was a tale of Sri Lankan inspiration rather than Indian failure, especially given the myriad obstacles in their path: a team in transition, a half-injured captain in Mathews, a replacement captain (Upul Tharanga) banned for two matches for a slow over rate, and persistent criticism of coach Graham Ford. “No-one really expected us to win,” Mathews said. “That took a lot of pressure off us. We knew, underneath, that we had the talent.”

First Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis chipped away with a second-wicket stand of 159, taking apart India’s main spinner Ravindra Jadeja in the process. When both were needlessly run out, Kusal Perera took over, batting virtually on one leg after pulling a hamstring. When he was finally forced to retire hurt with seven overs remaining, Asela Gunaratne walked to the crease and hooked his fourth ball in the general direction of Lambeth Palace for six.

India still had their trump cards to play: Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, two of the world’s finest death bowlers. But Gunaratne carved Kumar for four through point, before sweeping Bumrah - a 90mph bowler at his sharpest - high over square leg for half a dozen more.

As the Indian fans slowly filed out, the Sri Lankan papare band fired up. “It was like playing a World Cup final,” Mathews said. “Sri Lankan people like to have fun, and it was very pleasing for us to give them a win. We have had a terrible time in the recent past, losing a lot of lives in floods. We were glad we could give them a smile.”

And so the final games in this group - India v South Africa and Sri Lanka v Pakistan - are now both effectively quarter-finals. Given their respective net run rates, the winner of the latter will probably face England in the semi-finals if, as expected, the host nation top their group.

Brief Score-
Champions Trophy, Group B, The Oval
India 321-6 (50 overs): Dhawan 125, Rohit 78, Dhoni 63
Sri Lanka 322-3 (48.4 overs): Mendis 89, Gunathilaka 76, Mathews 52*
Sri Lanka won by seven wickets

Courtesy: Telegraph 

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