A day after India hammered Pakistan in a One-Day International that spanned over two days, the side was skittled out for only 213 at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. And yet, it won with considerable ease.
Records tumbled in the India-Pakistan match: joint-highest score against this opposition and biggest win in terms of runs, but the story was different against Sri Lanka.
For starters, it appeared that a game over two days was played on one pitch, against Pakistan, while there was a game of two halves against Sri Lanka. When India batted, the ball stopped and came onto the bat erratically. Some batters were rushed into shots, and others had finished their swing by the time contact was made, resulting in soft dismissals.
Overall, it was not an ideal surface for white-ball cricket. And yet, it worked out well for India in the end. Winning by 41 runs, defending a total of only 213, India bowlers showed that they could get the job done in a range of conditions.
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Jasprit Bumrah was unusually pumped up in conditions that did not suit him, but he bowled with purpose and skill to defeat batters first up. Mohammed Siraj kept his end up, protecting the bowling partnership, and India ensured Sri Lanka was three down before the spinners came on.
Axar Patel had a rare off day, not finding rhythm or the right speed through the air, but even in that, he was not profligate. Ravindra Jadeja, playing the role the team needed from him, offered admirable support and gave Rohit Sharma the control the captain needed.
The wrist spin of Kuldeep Yadav, who could take the ball away from both left-handed and right-handed batters, was critical in seeding doubt in the opposition’s mind.
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For fans, the 228-run win against Pakistan will be paramount, but the hard-fought 41-run win against Sri Lanka was more instructive.
It revealed and reaffirmed the team’s template for the World Cup, using bowlers who can bat at No. 8 in the place of a specialist. Axar did not just contribute vital runs with his 26, but shepherded the tail well enough to push India to a score it might defend.
On another day, on a flatter pitch, Shardul Thakur would have been preferred for his clean hitting. From here on, this Indian team will wear a settled look. They have one Super Fours match against Bangladesh left in the Asia Cup, but, having already made it to the final, this would be a good opportunity to rest some key players.
Overall, the team is in a good space, and all that remains is for Shreyas Iyer to recover from his back spasms to shore up the middle order. Iyer is one of the best players of spin and he remains central to India’s World Cup plans.