It was billed as captain MS Dhoni’s last match in his home city. The India skipper, who many say could retire at the end of the World Twenty20, needed this one to go his way.
India went into the game on Friday on the back of the shocking five-wicket loss against a depleted Sri Lanka on a grassy wicket in the first T20I. The team was in danger of losing the momentum it had built over the past few months with another confidence-shattering loss.
Fortunately, everything fell in place. India capitalised on familiar conditions to pull off a comfortable 69-run victory over the Lankans and level the series 1-1.
Dhoni had a dry surface at his disposal, an in-form opening pair and a spin-heavy bowling line-up that made the most of a surface strewn with cracks.
The India team management has been harping on the side’s balance since the victorious display in Australia. The claim suffered a blow as they lost the first match on a grassy track in Pune on Tuesday. On Friday, India were back on familiar territory and made it count.
After being asked to bat, Dhoni needed his batsmen to post a decent total, and India were led by a solid partnership by Rohit Sharma (43) and Shikhar Dhawan (51) upfront. The duo added 75 runs within the first seven overs to give a sound start.
The decision to juggle the batting order further helped India’s cause. All-rounder Hardik Pandya was promoted to No 5 after two quick wickets had left India in a spot of bother. Pandya added a quick 27 to take India past the 180-run mark. India eventually closed on a strong note at 196 for six.
Sri Lanka did have their moments and it wasn’t easy for the home side. A fine bowling display by Dushmantha Cheemara (2/32) and a late hat-trick by Thisara Perera (3/33) kept Sri Lanka hopeful, but India are hard to beat on a turning track, and the Lankans learnt that as soon as they walked in to bat.
Dhoni began with Ravichandran Ashwin’s off-spin, earning an immediate reward as he stumped the dangerous Tillakaratne Dishan off the first ball off Ashwin’s bowling. The off-spinner later returned to remove two more batsmen and finish with figures of 3/14 from four overs.
Medium-pacers Ashish Nehra, Jasprit Bumrah and spinner Ravindra Jadeja picked up two wickets apiece to restrict Sri Lanka to 127 for nine from their 20 overs.
The stiffest hurdle the players faced was in the outfield.
The dusty, bumpy surface, strewn with bald sand patches, could have dissuaded many from diving, but the India fielders did not care as they dived for every half chance.
A series defeat at the hands of a depleted opposition loomed large at the start of Friday, but India pulled off a clinical all-round show to claw their way back into the series.