By Shashank Kishore in Sylhet
Chamari Atapattu and Eshani Kaushalya play starring roles as India's challenge fizzles out in ICC Women’s World T20 game
It was a contest between two familiar sides ready to battle all over again after having completed a bilateral series just a month ago. Sri Lanka was marginally better then, but the side that turned up on a balmy evening in Sylhet raised its game by several notches to win quite comfortably in the end.
The win was set up after Chamari Atapattu and Eshani Kaushalya played contrasting knocks to help Sri Lanka to a challenging total of 128 for 8 after it opted to bat. The slow bowlers then dismantled India's more accomplished top order with precision, in the process proving that they weren't overawed by the big occasion. India never looked like posing a serious challenge as it finished at 106 for 9.
At various stages with the bat, Sri Lanka looked like running away with the game, but every time a semblance of a partnership developed, a needless big shot accounted for a wicket.
Mithali Raj, the India captain, decided to stick to the trend of bowling her spinners upfront. In Soniya Dabir and Gouher Sultana, she had two spinners who utilised the rough created by the other well. Yashoda Mendis, the Sri Lanka opener, seemed in a bit of a hurry as she first stepped out and launched Sultana over mid-on and followed that up with a lovely inside-out stroke over extra cover.
Unfazed by Mendis's intent, Sultana tossed one up for the third time and duly had her reward when Mendis was beaten in flight and was bowled. Two overs later, Dabir struck with the wicket of the experienced Deepika Rasangika. And when Sri Lanka lost Shashikala Siriwardene, the captain, it had lost three of its best batters inside the tenth over.
Taking the setbacks in her stride, Atapattu went about rebuilding the innings with a sense of calm. She was quick on her feet and smothered the turn nicely as she negated India's spin threat with ease. While her success against spin came about courtesy good technique, the patience she exhibited in seeing off a genuine threat in the form of Jhulan Goswami was most admirable.
Atapattu hit five boundaries in her knock of 43 before all the good work came crashing down courtesy an ill-fated hoick that gave Harmanpreet Kaur her first wicket. But Kaushalya played the way she knows best, wielding the long handle to perfection, smashing 34 off just 29 balls to give the innings a much needed lift at the death.
India came out looking to knock the leather off every ball. Smriti Mandhana hit two boundaries before a suicidal attempt at stealing a second run accounted for her wicket. India, strangely, decided to preserve Kaur to bail the team out of a crisis and promoted Goswami as a pinch-hitter to No. 4.
The tactic backfired and when Kaur finally came out to bat following Raj's dismissal on 16, India's asking rate had mounted to close to eight an over. Kaur kept the scorecard ticking along, but lack of support from the others finally forced her into playing one big shot too many. She got under a tossed up delivery by Maduri Sammuddika and found the sweet spot of the bat, the ball looked set to cross the fence until Kaushalya timed her jump to perfection to pull off the catch. All the while, there was a real danger of Kaushalya overbalancing, but she managed to grab the chance with the rope just a couple of inches behind her. It was a moment that was as important as her brief flourish with the bat.
Shikha Pandey tried to wage a lone battle after that, but all she managed to do was delay the inevitable.