There is no doubt that India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni revels as a captain when the ball grips the pitch, and turns the spinners into a force to contend with.
After the hosts were caught out on a grassy Pune pitch, India stormed back in Ranchi where the wicket helped slow bowlers. Dhoni threw the ball to his trusted man first up, and Ravichandran Ashwin rewarded him with three wickets in that second T20 tie.
In Visakhapatnam, the pitch didn’t provide many clues that it would help spinners, and India were bowling first. But Dhoni had no hesitation in bringing his best bowler on straightaway. The result was a stunning top-order collapse by Sri Lanka from which they never recovered as India completed a nine-wicket victory to clinch the series 2-1, which also ensures they retain the No 1 T20 ranking.
There was drama in the first over. Niroshan Dickwella jumped out in response to India’s spin attack, only for Ashwin to beat him with flight, loop and turn to get him stumped. The seasoned Tillakaratne Dilshan too had no clue, to one which came in sharply and trapped him in front. The crowd at the ACA-VDCA stadium was delighted.
With Ashwin adding one more wicket in his second over, Sri Lanka had no clue as they hurtled to 82 all out, their lowest-ever total. From 20 for four, the part-time spinners took over. Ashwin came on later to bowl his fourth and final over, but did not add to the 10 wickets he had taken in the series. But by then, Sri Lanka had conceded defeat.
Such has been Ashwin’s effectiveness that he currently leads India’s bowlers in terms of wickets taken in the first power-play phase.
Ashwin has been on a high. He finished 2015 on top of the ICC bowlers’ rankings in Tests, and as the No 1 all-rounder. Sri Lanka batsmen were left clueless. The visitors were not full-strength, but India will be happy to get momentum going before they head to the Asia Cup, to be played in Bangladesh from February 24, ahead of the World T20 at home.
“I thought I would get a five-wicket haul today, but I will take what I get,” said Ashwin. “I have a few variations in my hand. I am trying something new as I am bowling with the new ball. I try and get the batsmen to take risks and getting wickets is just a bonus.”
Dhoni has shuffled his bowlers through this short series, and everyone has responded with wickets.
“The build-up has been good,” he said. “We have a strong side, where all factors are falling into place. With the Asia Cup coming, we have more opportunities to test ourselves,” he said.
“All the teams for the World T20 look strong. It promises to be a closely fought contest and we are up for the challenge.”