COLOMBO, Sept. 1: Around the 25th over mark after Virat Kohlielected to bat first under the searing Colombo sun, it felt like twin double tons had an outside chance. The skipper had already raced to a 76-ball hundred and Rohit Sharmawas in his 70s. The Sri Lankan bowling was being toyed with and England’s world record ODI total of 444 — scored against Pakistan in Nottingham last year — looked under serious threat.
Four wickets between the 30th and 38th overs — Hardik Pandya and Rohit got out off successive balls against Angelo Mathews — did damage limitation for Sri Lanka, but India still got to 375 for five in 50 overs, thanks to an unbroken 101-run sixth wicket partnership between Manish Pandey and MS Dhoni. The fourth ODI at R Premadasa Stadium on Thursday was all but over as a contest before sundown.
The target was always beyond Sri Lanka’s reach and they made no attempt to go at it. They were reduced to 68/4 in the 16th over, and though Mathews scored 70, it was a token attempt to reduce the margin of defeat, which eventually was 168 runs. The hosts were bowled out with more than seven overs left.
A 219-run second-wicket partnership between Rohit and Kohli had sucked the life out of the hosts, but cricket lovers didn’t mind. They were entertained by the best batting of the tour by the India captain. The pitch was like a highway, the Sri Lankan bowling pedestrian and Kohli’s approach unfettered.
Coming to the middle after Shikhar Dhawan holed out at deep third man in the second over — the left-hander must have rued the missed opportunity — Kohli started painting a picture. The cover drive probably is the best indicator to his batting. He plays the shot better than anyone else in world cricket, at times seemingly with a touch of compulsion. With time, Vishwa Fernando will know it’s a dangerous game, trying to lure a class act like Kohli with width on the front foot on a dead track that offered virtually zero movement.
The Sri Lankan left-arm pacer bowled a half-volley outside the off stump; Kohli leaned into it and brought out a sublime cover drive to get going. Fernando tried to drag the length back a little, but Kohli walked into the delivery and whipped it past mid-off for another four. Fernando then made the mistake of bowling on the India skipper’s pads. The latter calmly placed it through the gap between mid-on and mid-wicket to have three boundaries on the trot. The hosts were already set for a long haul.
A run feast ensued that occasionally even bordered on the contemptuous. Stand-in Sri Lanka captain Lasith Malinga resorted to cutters to stem the run flow, but Kohli was having fun in the middle. An error of judgment and the subsequent run-out opportunity had been the sole hiccup. Kohli saved himself with a dive. He romped to his 29th ODI hundred in 76 balls. Such was his mastery over the bowling that it looked a mere formality.
His dismissal for 131 (96 balls, 17 fours and two sixes) was an anti-climax. A full and wide delivery from Malinga was driven straight to Dilshan Munaweera at sweeper cover. Rohit walked down from the non-striker’s end to pat his skipper. Malinga, on the other hand, raised his hand to celebrate his 300th ODI scalp. In the context of the game, however, it was a lucky break that allowed Sri Lanka at least some breathing space.
Like fast bowlers, batsmen too thrive in partnerships. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman always complemented each other. Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane do it in the Test team. The 50-over format saw the third double century partnerships between Rohit and Kohli on Thursday.
A little over two months ago, in the Champions Trophy semifinal against Bangladesh, the two had put on 178 runs for the second wicket without being separated. Rohit had scored 123 not out, while Kohli remained unbeaten on a run-a-ball 96.
On this occasion, Kohli played the lead. Rohit, despite being fresh from an unbeaten 124 in the last game, played second fiddle. But the best part of his batting was the way he negated Akila Dananjaya. Very few play spin better than Rohit in this Indian team and from the visitors’ point of view, it was important to gain the psychological upper hand over the ‘mystery’ spinner early in the innings. Rohit pulled him to the mid-wicket boundary followed by a six over wide long-on and the threat was negated.
After reaching his fifty (45 balls), Rohit upped the ante and his next fifty runs came in 40 deliveries. He eventually got out to Mathews for 104 off 88 balls – his 13th ODI ton. Mathews had removed Pandya, promoted to No. 4, off his previous delivery. And when Dananjaya accounted for KL Rahul three overs later, India suddenly had some rebuilding to do.
Before the start of the match, Kohli presented a memento to Dhoni on his 300th ODI appearance. After 13 years of international cricket, the former captain now appears to have become a master re-builder. He did the job brilliantly in the last two games. Here, in a far more comfortable situation, the pitch raise was gradual. He didn’t even go for a second run in the penultimate ball of the innings and allowed Pandey, who replaced Kedar Jadhav, to score his second ODI half-century. Dhoni remained unbeaten on 49 off 42 balls. He is yet to be dismissed in this series, going at an average of infinity.
When India bowled, focus was on debutant Shardul Thakur and chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav, who came in for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Yuzvendra Chahal respectively. Niroshan Dickwella became the Mumbai seamer’s maiden international scalp. Yadav returned with two for 31 in 8.4 overs.TIE