“We would like to maintain the same intensity we had against Pakistan. There is no reason to be complacent,” India captain Virat Kohli had remarked on the eve of the game against Sri Lanka. “Being a tournament of top eight teams, there is no reason to take any team lightly. Moreover, Sri Lanka have the ability to upset any team on their day.”
Kohli may not have envisaged it, but complacency had crept in even before the Indian team had walked out onto the field on Thursday. There was not a lot of it, but enough to worry the Indians and encourage the Sri Lankans.
The hints of complacency first appeared in the Indian skipper’s statement itself. While most of Kohli’s statement held true, his mention of Sri Lanka’s ability to ‘upset’ teams stood out.
Sri Lanka may not have been the feared force in world cricket they once were, but it was surprising for Kohli to term their triumphs as upsets a day before the two sides clashed.
Maybe Kohli did not mean it. But they were like words from his subconscious, which expected the contest to be lopsided because of the build up to the match.
The build-up to India’s encounter with Sri Lanka narrated a tale because there was barely a build up. The game at The Oval had not been spoken about. All eyes had been on the battle against Pakistan. And if there was another match that had been worthy of any importance, it was India’s last tie in the group against South Africa.
India arrived in England as the defending champions and as one of the firm favourites. After they crushed Pakistan in the passionate opener, the expectations soared.
Next up were Sri Lanka. A victory in the game would have cleared their passage to the semi-finals. The pre-tournament script would have been in order and the champions could then have toyed with their team combination against South Africa, the World No 1 ODI side.
“Maybe for the next one, we'll look to do something different. Bringing some good momentum into the game. Teams are going to play one spinner, (Ravichandran) Ashwin understands the dynamics and he's a professional," Kohli mentioned at the toss on Thursday.
When Kohli spoke of shuffling the team combination in the next game, it showed that the Indian camp already had an eye on Sunday’s game against South Africa. The hope to make changes also left an impression that the team believed that a victory against Sri Lanka that takes them to the last four was a foregone conclusion.
But close to eight hours later, as the match drew to a close, Kohli was left hanging and nodding his head in disbelief.
Sri Lanka were not meant to compete in the game, let alone win it. Instead, they had leveled their best-ever ODI chase by mocking India’s total of 321.
The result meant that India’s meeting with South Africa remained an important fixture, as expected at the start of the Champions Trophy. In fact, it was now also a knockout clash, which meant India’s plans to chop and change may have to wait.
India had been stunned by the unforeseen defeat at the hands of the Sri Lankans. The repercussion also meant that the holders of the trophy stare at a shocking exit in the group stage itself if they fail to overcome the might of South Africa.
India’s frustration fizzed to the fore in the last few overs of their stunning defeat. Kedar Jadhav verbally expressed his disappointment at an effort in the field. Jasprit Bumrah could have destroyed the ground in anger when Jadhav let a four off his bowling at the midwicket fence. And, Umesh Yadav had his hands on his hips more than up in celebration as the Lankan batsmen took an extra liking to his bowling.
It was the ineffectiveness of India’s bowling that ensured a point of no return for Kohli’s men against Sri Lanka.
After years, India had entered a tournament with an envious bowling attack. For the first time, India’s bowlers were spoken in the same breath as their more fashionable batsmen.
For days, Kohli had been ecstatic about the problem of plenty in his bowling unit. On Thursday, the Indian team had the pace and swing of Umesh. In Bhuvneshwar Kumar, they had a bowler who had now transformed himself into a captain’s dream at the start and end of an innings. And, they would have believed that their long-standing struggles in the death overs of an ODI had been banished with the arrival of Jasprit Bumrah. To complement the well-rounded pace attack, India had the tidy spin of Ravindra Jadeja and an additional pace option in Hardik Pandya.
Yet, at The Oval, Kohli and Jadhav bowled in tandem with only 26 overs into the chase. It was because Sri Lanka had raced to 158 and India’s strike bowlers had managed a solitary wicket.
MS Dhoni and Kohli had converged to discuss of options to disturb the threatening Sri Lankan rhythm. That is when it was decided to resort to the extreme option of bowling part-timers despite the luxury of five specialists in the team.
Danushka Gunathilaka was run-out in Kohli’s first over. Kusal Mendis was run-out a few overs later. But those were the only two wickets the Indians could manage after Bhuvneshwar had struck early.
On a placid wicket that refused to be an ally to the bowlers, India’s bowlers were handed a reality-check. Bhuvneshwar and Umesh had been too wide, while Bumrah had been too short. The yorker was almost a forgotten art. In fact, the Lankan counterparts had been smarter. One side of The Oval’s boundary was larger compared to the other. Lasith Malinga & Co forced the Indian batsmen to play a lot of their shots toward that side, often against the wind.
The shrewdness of the Sri Lankan bowlers burned brighter because midway through the first innings, the tactics of the Indian batsmen regressed by a decade when scores of 300 would all but guarantee a victory.
When Rohit Sharma returned to the pavilion, India were on 138 after 24.5 overs. For the next 14.1 overs, India only put on another 69 runs and lost two more wickets. There were power-hitters like Hardik Pandya and Jadhav as backup in the hut, but Dhoni and Shikhar Dhawan decided to leave it late. And, late was eventually not enough. After all, the 321 India managed was knocked over by Angelo Mathews’ team with eight balls and seven wickets to spare. At the end of it, an unrecognisable India had showed up at The Oval.
India take on South Africa at the same venue on Sunday. But that is all Kohli will hope remains the same. Because, if the real India do not stand up in a couple of days, Kohli’s fairytale run as India captain could suffer a nightmarish end.
Updated Date: Jun 09, 2017 15:09 PM