Despite missing multiple of their first XI picks, the Shikhar Dhawan led Indian side gave hosts Sri Lanka a run for their money in the second T20I of the three-match series on Wednesday. But carrying an imbalanced unit had a telling impact eventually as they lost by a margin of four wickets in a low-scoring thriller.
Originally meant to be played on Tuesday, the second T20I was rescheduled July 28 following confirmation that spin all-rounder Krunal Pandya has tested COVID-19 positive.
Amid the scare of a viral outbreak in the Indian camp, all other members underwent another round of testing and returned negative. This, including eight players who were identified as Krunal’s closest contacts.
However, as a necessary health safety precautionary measure, stand-in captain Dhawan and coach Rahul Dravid opted to rest those eight players, which left them with only four specialist batsmen plus wicketkeeper Sanju Samson and six bowling options to choose an XI with.
Despite such an alarming imbalance, though, India nearly pulled through to seal the three-match series.
As it happened, the visitors lost the toss and were asked to bat first. Dhawan was joined by debutant Ruturaj Gaikwad at the top. They gave India a solid start, allowing the visitors to be 45/0 at the end of the powerplay restrictions. Given the slow, spin-friendly nature of the surface and India’s lack of batting depth, it was an excellent start. Gaikwad (21 off 18 balls) got out in the next over, but Dhawan carried on and made a 42-ball 40.
Indian skipper couldn’t quite find his timing all innings and failed to connect many of his intended strokes, but given what India had at their disposal, Dhawan’s were some crucial 40 runs in the context of things.
Another debutant Devdutt Padikkal (29 off 23 balls), batted with good composure against the Sri Lankan spinners when they were really starting to tighten up the screws on Indian batsmen in the middle overs. Padikkal rotated the strike quite nicely but lost his wicket trying to up the ante.
Samson and third debutant for the night Nitish Rana couldn’t get going and managed only 7 and 9 runs off the 13 and 12 balls they had faced, respectively. Experienced pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar, forced to bat No.6 on the day, scored a useful 13* off 11 balls to take India to a total of 132 for 5.
Sri Lankan bowlers – Dushmantha Chameera (1/23), Akila Dhananjaya (2/29), Wanindu Hasaranga (1/30) and even skipper Dasun Shanaka (1/14) – made it tougher for Indian batsmen with their precision and control on a day where they were they already had shackles imposed on them.
The asking rate for Sri Lanka at the start of their run-chase was only 6.65, but India still managed to make a game out of it. Lead pacer Bhuvneshwar (1/21) bowled superbly at the start of the innings, using his slow-ball variations to good effect on a dry surface. He got in-form opening batsman Avishka Fernando out, miscuing the ball to the square-leg fielder.
That wicket allowed Indian spinners – Varun Chakravarthy (1/18), Rahul Chahar (1/27) and Kuldeep (2/30) – to control things nicely for much of the middle stage. But Sri Lanka ensured they never let the asking rate get out of their hands by scoring some timely boundaries along the way. Minod Bhanuka (36 off 31) and Dhananjaya de Silva (40*) were the two stand-out batsmen for the Lankans on the night. Even Hasaranga (15 off 11) chipped in with a useful cameo.
But perhaps the most telling blow on the night was made by seam bowling all-rounder Chamika Karunaratne, who bowled just one over in the first half, but smashed an important six off Bhuvneshwar in the 19th over of the chase. With 18 needed off the last 10 balls, the match was gradually slipping out of Sri Lanka’s hands. However, as it happens in low-scoring games, one maximum off Chamika’s bat changed it all for the batting side.
Either side of that delivery, Bhuvneshwar was outstanding on the night, but one error in execution on his part meant that young debutant seamer Chetan Sakariya had only 8 runs to defend in the last over, which Sri Lanka easily chased down with two balls to spare. Chamika’s (12* off 6 balls) well-timed cameo and the strong composure of De Silva allowed Sri Lanka to keep their heavily weakened but resolute opponent at bay and level the series 1-1.
India 132/5 in 20 overs (Shikhar Dhawan 40, Devdutt Padikkal 29; Akila Dananjaya 2/29, Dushmatha Chameera 1/23) lost to Sri Lanka 133/6 in 19.4 overs (Dhananjaya de Silva 40*, Minod Bhanuka 36; Kuldeep Yadav 2/30, Varun Chakravarthy 1/18) by four wickets.