Rahul seals chase after Kuldeep spins through Sri Lanka
India won the ODI series with a game to spare at Eden Gardens
India 219 for 6 (Rahul 64*, Hardik 36, Karunaratne 2-51, Kumara 2-64) beat Sri Lanka 215 (Nuwanidu 50, Mendis 34, Wellalage 32, Siraj 3-30, Kuldeep 3-51) by four wickets
Sri Lanka got to 102 for 1 in the 17th over, then threw their innings away in a collapse that cost them six wickets for 50 runs. The lower order pushed them up to 215 all out - the last wicket falling in the 40th over. But it was never going to be enough.
And though Sri Lanka's bowlers made India's batters work, reducing them to 86 for 4 at one stage, India's run rate was too healthy, and their batting resources too rich. Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul put on a 75-run stand for the fifth wicket, breaking the back of the chase. Then Rahul pushed on to 64 not out off 103 balls.
It had been India's bowlers, though, who defined this match. Kuldeep Yadav triggered Sri Lanka's collapse by taking Kusal Mendis' wicket, before picking up Charith Asalanka and Dasun Shanaka to finish with 3 for 51 from his 10 overs. Mohammed Siraj, who had been excellent with the new ball, took 3 for 30, picking up a couple of late wickets. Umran Malik snuffed out two promising lower-order innings as well.
The only Sri Lanka batter who made a half-century was debutant Nuwanidu Fernando, who was batting out of position as an opener (he usually bats in the middle order in domestic cricket). The great indictment on Sri Lanka's batters in this game, perhaps, is that all but three of the XI got to double figures, suggesting the Eden Gardens pitch was decent enough. But a major collapse occurred nonetheless.
The innings' nosedive was forged more of Sri Lanka's incompetence in this format than India's particular excellence. Mendis had batted nicely for his run-a-ball 34, but got hit on the back leg by a Kuldeep googly at the end of the 17th over, having misread the modest turn. Dhananjaya de Silva let an Axar Patel arm ball slide between bat and pad; Asalanka sent a leading edge back to Kuldeep, the bowler; Shanaka got too far inside the line and let Kuldeep spin one into his pads and then leg stump; later, the bowling allrounders (Wanindu Hasaranga, Dunith Wellalage and Chamika Karunaratne) were all caught by Axar at backward point, two of them off Malik.
The lowest third of the innings had at least added some value before departing, however. Hasaranga made 21 off 17, Karunaratne 17 off 25, and Wellalage played perhaps the most responsible innings of the three, despite being the most junior, producing 32 off 34. It was thanks to them that Sri Lanka breached 200.
Through Nuwanidu's fifty, though, Sri Lanka had at least one positive. He was cautious against the new ball, leaving often, and defending plenty, though he rarely seemed anxious even when he faced 10 scoreless deliveries to start, then had got to only 6 off the first 20. He was strong behind square, finding most of his runs, and four of his six boundaries, there
India's chase was not particularly clinical, and there were times at which Sri Lanka had a chance to pull off an unlikely defence of a modest score. Shubman Gill raced to 21 off 11 balls, hitting five fours, four of those through cover or extra cover. But then he pulled Kumara straight to short midwicket and was out. Rohit Sharma had been dismissed before that, nicking off to Chamika Karunaratne.
And when Virat Kohli was bowled off an inside edge (Kumara the bowler), and Shreyas Iyer was trapped in front by Kasun Rajitha, it seemed like Sri Lanka had a shot.
But Hardik and Rahul doused what small fires had been lit. Theirs was a leisurely, risk-free stand, playing out Sri Lanka's spinners, picking the singles and twos into space. The required rate was hardly relevant.
Hardik was dismissed with 55 still required, but Rahul ensured he remained at the crease to guide the chase home. Three of his six boundaries came behind square, and the other three in the arc between mid-off and cover, but it was the defensive strokes and the singles square of the wicket that defined his innings. He forged a partnership with Axar, then took the chase home in Kuldeep's company.
Now, 2-0 up, India have sealed the series.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf