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The Bulletin by Sidharth Monga
December 24, 2009
Virtually chanceless centuries from Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir made sure they would go to their home ground, Feroz Shah Kotla, with the series in the bag. The ease with which they chased down 316 in 48.1 overs, with Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar out inside the first four overs, and the absences of MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh for this match, was remarkable. On a day that youngsters outshone the more familiar performers in the series, Upul Tharanga's first ODI century in 53 innings and more than three years, along with Suranga Lakmal's opening burst finished second-best to the 224-run partnership between the Delhi batsmen.
The Sri Lankan spinners were hampered by the dew, and were not helped by the ease with which the Indian batsmen kept alternating the strike. Kumar Sangakkara's strategy to sit and wait for a mistake in the middle overs confounded equally. Of the 224 runs that Kohli and Gambhir added, they ran 125. As a result, they were not forced to take risks, neither did the required run-rate ever go over 6.7.
That had little bearing on how well Kohli - who scored his maiden international century - and Gambhir played. The main features of Kohli's innings were the flicks into the leg side, and punches off the back foot. Gambhir looked to run the ball off the face of the bat, place it into gaps for couples, and he also made sure he was there till the end.
Lakmal would have happily settled with Sehwag and Tendulkar as his first two international wickets, within seven deliveries and before either batsman had settled down, had Kohli and Gambhir not staged the comeback. Neither batsmen needed to take the aerial route. The only element of risk was Kohli's moving across the stumps, but his bat kept coming down at the right time.
Debutant Thissara Perera went for 28 in his four overs, and was replaced by Lasith Malinga, who helped in opening the floodgates. Kohli flicked him for two boundaries on the leg side, and crashed him through the off side for two more, off consecutive deliveries in his first over. After nine overs, India had galloped along to 70, and Kohli to 26 off 22.
Lakmal continued to get the odd ball to rise awkwardly, but he lacked support from the other end. And once India's run-rate went above the required rate, both the batsmen settled down into milking mode and waited for the loose balls, which Malinga kept providing India with.
With spin came signs that the dew would have an effect on the remainder of the match. In his second over, Suraj Randiv bowled a lob down the leg side, and Kohli took advantage. The boundary again took India ahead of the required rate, and in the next couple of overs both the batsmen reached their fifties.
They cruised towards their centuries, but not before Kohli presented Sri Lanka with the only glimpse of opportunity. He had reached 88, and India 207 for 2 in 33 overs, when he nicked the first ball from Tillakaratne Dilshan. Sangakkara, though, couldn't hold on to a tough chance. The two batsmen then reached their respective centuries mirroring each other - moving from 99 to 100 in consecutive deliveries. In what was the definitive tale of the innings, both got those singles with only four fielders inside the circle.
The century attained, Kohli holed out to long-on, trying to finish off the game early, but Gambhir made sure there were no further mishaps, scoring 47 off the 70 remaining runs.
Tharanga was made to work harder for his seventh century earlier in the day. For the first time in the series, India came out with an effective plan to keep Tharanga and Dilshan quiet in the opening overs. Both Zaheer and Nehra kept two men on the leg-side boundary for Dilshan, the third man was left vacant, but no room was given and neither was he offered anything to drive.
As a result, India managed their first maiden of the series - bowled by Nehra - and not one boundary was conceded in the first five overs. In the first three matches, Sri Lanka reached their 50 in 3.4 overs, 6.3 overs, and 7.2 overs. At those various stages, Sri Lanka had scored 6 for 0, 23 for 0 and 24 for 0 today.
Dilshan fell into the trap and pulled Nehra low to Kohli at fine leg, but in one swift act of acceleration, and solid consolidation thereafter, Tharanga almost single-handedly undid India's improved effort.
India's fielding was a huge improvement over their earlier efforts, but they still dropped Tharanga and Kumar Sangakkara. That cost them 171 runs, and left them chasing 300-plus - a total that did scant justice to the efforts of Zaheer and Nehra who took 4 for 117 between them.
Like Malinga with Kohli later in the match, Ishant Sharma provided Tharanga with the release and the momentum in the 12th over. Ishant provided him driving length, and also width, and was punished with five boundaries in his first over. All of a sudden, Tharanga was 45 off 43 balls.
A period of consolidation followed, and Tharanga and Sangakkara added 126 runs in 23.4 overs without any concern. After Sangakkara's dismissal, and Tharanga's soon after, Perera stunned India with 31 off 14 balls, but Zaheer and Nehra came back well to ensure the damage done was not beyond repair.