India needed to restrict Sri Lanka to 167 to reach the final, which will take place on Thursday, in a rain-curtailed match and Bhuvneshwar Kumar broke the back of the Sri Lankan top order to allow India to sail on. In the process, India picked up a bonus point as well and finished on top of the points table, which looked highly unlikely after its twin defeats in Jamaica earlier in the tournament.
India’s innings was called to a close at 119 for 3 in 29 overs and Sri Lanka was set a revised target of 178 in 26 overs (Duckworth-Lewis method) for an outright win. India’s hopes rested on taking early Sri Lankan wickets and Bhuvneshwar delivered as he had Upul Tharanga in all sorts of trouble before finally getting him to edge to Suresh Raina at second slip.
Bhuvneshwar then made it two in two balls as umpire Peter Nero gave Kumar Sangakkara lbw to an appeal that didn’t have much right about it, and Sri Lanka was reduced to 15 for 2.
Bhuvneshwar put on a fine display of swing and seam bowling, making life difficult even for the great Mahela Jayawardene. Perhaps it was the accuracy, but Jayawardene guided a short delivery from Bhuvneshwar to deep third man as India’s hopes of making the final started to look good. India took another step forward as Bhuvneshwar picked up his fourth wicket, an impatient Lahiru Thirimanne trying to break the shackles only to find Virat Kohli at cover point.
Sri Lanka needed to score 136 more runs in 17 overs to knock India out but the possibility of that happening was looking less and less likely as Bhuvneshwar finished an impressive six-over spell with figures of 4 for 8.
Spin was introduced in the 12th over. The moisture in the track allowed the ball to grip and turn and both the Indian spinners, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, exploited the conditions. Jadeja soon had Angelo Mathews caught behind and an ambitious Dinesh Chandimal stumped, as India had its hands firmly around Sri Lanka’s throat at 63 for 6.
Even as the spinners were exerting control and Bhuvneshwar had shown the way to bowl on this track, Umesh Yadav looked clueless as he sprayed the ball all around. But Ashwin yorked Jeevan Mendis soon, and India was firmly on its way to knocking West Indies out of the competition, and Sri Lanka was soon bowled out for 96 with Chandimal top scoring with a painstaking 26.
Earlier, rain put a halt to proceedings after Rohit Sharma had scored a slow but useful unbeaten 48 to help India reach 119 for 3.
In a must-win game for India, Kohli lost the toss on a fresh wicket and Mathews did not hesitate to put India in. India made no changes to its playing XI while Sri Lanka decided to play Rangana Herath ahead of Sachithra Senanayake and was forced to replace the injured Nuwan Kulasekara with Dilhara Lokuhettige, who hadn’t played a One-Day International since facing India in 2005.
There was early movement in the air and plenty of assistance from the pitch as the Sri Lankan seamers tested Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan. After a couple of good-looking boundaries, Dhawan lost his wicket trying to play inside out to Mathews and edged to Jayawardene, who took his 200th ODI catch, at first slip. India should have been two down at the end of the Power Play overs, but Mendis spilled a simple chance off Rohit.
The Sri Lankan bowlers kept the Indians on a tight leash as overs 7-13 yielded only 13 runs, even as Rohit and Kohli tried, unsuccessfully, to break free. Kohli finally unfurled a few drives and cuts as India looked to step up the scoring rate and the total reached 74 in 20 overs. But India lost Kohli (31 off 52 balls) immediately to an arm ball from Herath, trapped plumb in front, to be reduced to 76 for 2.
Dinesh Karthik tried to provide impetus to the innings by launching the second delivery he faced over midwicket for a six. Rohit’s slow progress at the other end was pulling India down, till he decided to play couple of aggressive shots as India reached 100 in the 25th over. Herath then spun one past Karthik’s defence from the middle stump to further push India back at 111 for 3. A couple of overs later, the inevitable summer rains arrived and stopped play.