India hold nerve to clinch thriller

Sri Lanka answer Sehwag assault through Dilshan but fall short by three runs at the finish

India hold nerve to clinch thriller

Team India celebrating after defeating Sri lanka by 3 runs in the first ODI at Rajkot (AP)

On a pitch meant to mint runs in abundance, Sehwag was unstoppable, bullying his way to his 12th one-day hundred, the foundation for India’s record-breaking total of 414 for seven and a narrow three-run win over Sri Lanka in the first one-day international here on Tuesday.
At 12.30 pm, the lunch time, it might have been ridiculous to even think of a Lankan victory.
But two innings of ebullience from Dilshan and skipper Sangakkara seemed to provide an unexpected twist in the script. Towards the end, however, the pressure of the chase and Indian bowlers’ late-found direction overshadowed their brave efforts as the Lankans ended up at 411 for 8, unable to net the 15 runs they needed off the final two overs.

Sehwag took a few minutes to gauge the pitch and the bowlers but there was no looking back once he got his eye in as strokes of power, precision and downright arrogance flowed from his willow. There was not a single Lankan bowler who managed to escape the fury of Sehwag’s scathing willow. He milked 153 runs for the opening wicket along with Tendulkar, often reducing the batting maestro to the role of an admiring spectator.

It is quite tough to outdo Tendulkar in shot-making, but Sehwag on the day was in a different zone. Lankan pacers were guilty of offering the Indian opener too much width on either side of the stumps and Sehwag needed no second invitation to cash in on the freebies. The quality of Sehwag’s innings was such that it was difficult to single out a shot as his best of the day. Breathtaking stuff!

The dismissal of Tendulkar, castled by Dilhara Fernando, might have prompted the Lankans to heave a sigh of relief, but soon they realised the danger of having Sehwag and Mahendra Singh together at the crease. The two power-hitters carted Lankan bowlers all around to amass 156 runs  in an awesome display of force.

The return of Sehwag sparked a mini-collapse as India lost five wickets for 53 runs. However, Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja showed a lot of verve in the death overs as India picked up the run rate again to go past the 400-run mark.

The brilliance of Dilshan and Sangakkara almost carried to Lanka to a memorable victory. Dilshan first took Lanka to 188 in just 24 overs in the company of a calculative Upul Tharanga for the opening wicket. The ineffectiveness of regular bowlers forced Dhoni to turn to part-timers and the move brought the desired result.
Suresh Raina jettisoned Tharanga, who looked increasingly comfortable with the task at hand, but the second-wicket partnership between Dilshan and Sangakkara shifted the momentum in favour of the visitors. The Indians were on the ropes as Dilshan, who got a reprieve on 118, and Sangakkara hammered them mercilessly.

The Lankan skipper, who was dropped on 58, was at his innovative best, garnering runs a frenetic pace without ever sacrificing his natural flair and elegance. The duo raised 128 runs in 12.3 overs at more than 10 runs an over.

Just when it seemed that Indians would pay dearly for their lapses on the field, Sangakkara departed, giving a simple catch to Jadeja off Praveen Kumar, and the dismissal injected fresh energy into the home side. The fielders picked up their act, effecting three run outs and plugging the gaps with quick legs. The bowlers showed a lot more purpose at this stage, with Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan Singh combining effectively to choke the Lankan middle and late order to take India home, though by the skin of their teeth.

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