ICC Champions Trophy 2017: India vs Sri Lanka, Kusal Mendis-Danushka Gunathilaka partnership is SK Turning Point of the match
Coming into this match, India were the centre of all attention. Billed as heavy tournament favourites, the defending champions had won seven consecutive matches in the Champions Trophy (from 2009 till present).
However, Sri Lanka defied all expectations and defeated Virat Kohli’s team in a resounding run chase. In doing so, they kept their chances alive whilst turning the final two games in Group B into virtual quarter-finals.
On a flat surface, the returning Angelo Mathews won the toss and opted to bowl first. Riding on a sublime century from Shikhar Dhawan as well as fifties from Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni, India amassed 321 runs. But the Sri Lankan batsmen put on an exhibition of fearless hitting and completed an astounding 7-wicket victory with 8 balls to spare.
Aside from being the joint-highest in their ODI history, the run chase was also the highest in all editions of Champions Trophy.
Here’s how Sri Lanka orchestrated their record-breaking run chase at The Oval.
The Mendis-Gunathilaka show
The pursuit began on a dire note as wicket-keeper batsman Niroshan Dickwella perished in the fifth over. What followed was scarcely believable as two of Sri Lanka’s finest young prospects combined together to take full toll of the Indian bowlers.
Having been rushed into the squad due to Chamara Kapugedera’s injury, Gunathilaka opened the innings. The elegant left-hander seized the opportunity with both hands and put on a game-changing partnership with Kusal Mendis.
The elegant left-hander got into the groove by pulling a rising delivery from Umesh Yadav into the stands. Meanwhile, at the other end, Mendis survived a testing spell from Bhuvneshwar Kumar before finding his feet. He would have been dismissed early in the piece had Kohli attacked with a second slip.
Aside from latching onto loose deliveries, the duo kept the scoreboard ticking by rotating the strike with delectable ease. At the beginning of the partnership, Gunathilaka was the more expressive of the two batsmen. He brought up his 3rd half-century by dispatching Hardik Pandy into the deep mid-wicket stands.
With the seamers unable to provide the breakthrough, Kohli looked to Ravindra Jadeja for a spark. Unfortunately for him, the left-arm spinner failed to respond and came up with one of his worst spells in this format of the game. Unlike his usual metronomic self, the 28-year old’s lengths were all over the place. Mendis duly pounced on the inconsistency on offer and reached a classy fifty.
The diminutive right-hander pried open the floodgates by thrashing Hardik Pandya for three successive boundaries in the 26th over. India finally managed to separate the duo when a moment of hesitancy between the wickets proved to the undoing for Gunathilaka.
Just 13 short of what would have been a tremendous century, Mendis was dismissed through a run-out too. After another horrid call, Bhuvneshwar nailed a direct hit and caught him well short of the crease. Even both batsmen departed in quick succession, they had established a strong platform by adding 159 runs for the second wicket.
Ice-cool Mathews takes over
At 196/3 from 33 overs, the game appeared to be in the balance. But Sri Lanka still had Mathews alongside a dangerous lower-order filled with hard-hitters. The skipper joined hands with Kusal Perera and continued to apply pressure on the Indian bowlers.
The remarkable aspect of their batting was the splendid manner in which they controlled the required run-rate. Another left-right combination rendered the pacers toothless. Umesh Yadav, in particular, leaked runs aplenty as the batsmen used his unbridled pace to find the boundary on a regular basis.
Before leaving the field due to a hamstring injury, Kusal Perera had sustained the momentum with a rapid cameo. Asela Gunaratne came into the middle and oversaw the final formalities with Mathews. The Sri Lankan captain led from the front by helping his team cruise past the finishing line with an unbeaten half-century.
Showing his extensive experience as well as smart match awareness, he manoeuvred the field with consummate skill. His composure, as well as Gunaratne's blitz, ensured that Sri Lanka registered one of their most memorable ODI victories in recent times.