Match Analysis

Experienced India attack crumbles in face of SL onslaught

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja all have a wealth of experience in pressure situations, but they had no answer for Sri Lankan aggression at The Oval

India's bowling attack is one of the best in the tournament. Their bowling is their strength for a change. That was the reading and verdict of pundits, opposition captains and even India captain Virat Kohli. The variety in the Indian fast bowling attack coupled with the experienced spin pair of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja contributed to such a conclusion.
India's fast bowling contingent comprising Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya and Mohammed Shami was effective in all the matches played before Thursday - in the two warm-ups (against New Zealand and Bangladesh) and their first group tie, against Pakistan. Despite not getting any swing, these bowlers used their experience, pace and variations to dominate the opposition thoroughly.
On Thursday, though, a young and daring opponent dominated India. On the eve of the contest, Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews had said the pressure was on India. Having set a good enough target, Kohli would have been confident of his bowlers finishing off the job.
Then how did India get rattled in the end? In fact, they got rattled by the pair of Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis, who scored with freedom, and put Sri Lanka in a winning frame of mind by the halfway stage. Neither batsman backed off throughout their long partnership. Having seen Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma stitch a strong alliance in the morning, the Sri Lanka pair was aware there was no devil in the pitch despite it wearing a faintly greenish tinge.
But the most important thing Gunathilaka and Mendis did was impose themselves straightaway. Gunathalika, upright in his posture, firm grip, played eye-catching strokes. He wisely utilised the pace of the Indian quicks to his benefit. At the other end, Mendis did not hesitate to throw the kitchen sink at anything - be it an over-pitched delivery or a wider one away from his body. No doubt such a display threw some ungainly edges, even a couple of chances, but Mendis kept getting away.
The boldness of the duo only added pressure on the Indian medium-pacers. Sri Lanka also had a plan for Jadeja, the lone specialist spinner after India opted to bench Ashwin for the second match in a row. The plan was simply to attack Jadeja as much as they could. With the ball not taking any spin and the pitch remaining hard, Jadeja found it difficult to stop them. It did not help that he bowled lengths that allowed Mendis and then Kusal Perera to sweep, pull and charge with abandon.
Another bowler that was dominated was Pandya, who pitched fuller more often than to his captain's liking. Gunathilaka took a step forward to club Pandya for a six over deep midwicket to bring up his half-century.
Gunathalika and Mendis could only be stopped by spectacular run-outs by the Indian fielders. But Mathews and Kusal took the momentum forward with another bright partnership. As the match entered the final bend, Kusal limping back to the change room after retiring hurt might have given a fresh wave of hope in the Indian hearts.
The first few balls Asela Gunaratne played certainly gave some anxious moments to Mathews. But the third ball he faced from Umesh was pitched short, enough to take a step back and pull it for a six. Gunaratne would continue to hurt India just the way the other Sri Lankan batsmen did. He also regaled the minority Lankan presence at the ground with his breathtaking strokeplay: like sweeping Bumrah over backward square leg for a six.
According to Kohli, the absence of any swing did not affect the fast bowlers. It was just the fact that Sri Lanka's batsmen remained positive throughout, a strategy India have used often to numb oppositions.
"The good thing that they did was they did not lose wickets, and they kept getting a strike, which we as a team have done so many times," Kohli said after the defeat. "Sometimes teams are going to come up and do that against you, and sometimes you literally can't do anything in the game. When we got those two run-outs, we thought we can get a couple of wickets now. But, again, those guys came in and played their shots, and it came off well.
"You try to find ways to get people out, but it doesn't happen. If you have a couple of guys with off days in between, you can't go in with eight bowling options. You literally have five or six with a part-timer. In any case, you play two spinners, or you play four seamers."
Kohli did say that with Jadeja and Pandya off colour, he had to resort to bowling himself along with the part-time offspin of Kedar Jadhav on a pitch that was dry.
"Yeah, if two guys aren't able to execute their lines, it does become difficult. Me and Kedar chipped in with our overs, and the game pulled back at that stage. But then, again, everyone came out and played positive cricket from their team."
Bhuvneshwar, Umesh, Bumrah, Pandya and Jadeja - all these men have at different times over the years handled pressure situations, especially in the IPL. But against Sri Lanka they could not.
"Our bowlers also bowled decently well," Kohli said. "If batsmen come out and play like that and everyone plays well, you have to give credit to the opposition as well. We're not invincible."

Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo