Virat Kohli stroked his third fifty in as many T20s against Sri Lanka to send his team cruising to the Asia Cup final, after a tight bowling performance had restrained the opposition to 138 for 9. Kohli arrived with India wobbling at 16 for 2 in the fourth over, but soon enlisted Suresh Raina, then Yuvraj Singh, for support, in what was eventually a comfortable chase. The winning runs were hit with four balls and five wickets to spare. Kohli’s share was a 47-ball 56 not out.
It had been Ashish Nehra and Jasprit Bumrah who earned India the initial impetus, however, taking out a batsman apiece during their miserly new-ball spells. Sri Lanka coughed and spluttered right through their innings, losing wickets just as a significant partnership seemed to be forming. Chamara Kapugedera top-scored with 30 from 32, before late blows from Thisara Perera and Nuwan Kulasekara propelled the team to what was a half-decent score, given the conditions. Dew would make defending it substantially harder, however.
Bumrah, Hardik Pandya and R Ashwin all took two wickets apiece for India, and Nehra made a customary early breakthrough. Ashwin was typically crafty, but the seamers’ scalps were largely the result of good discipline, as Sri Lanka batsmen attempted to manufacture big strokes following long, quiet spells.
Kohli was in good touch from early in his innings, smoking Angelo Mathews through midwicket fifth ball, before pumping Nuwan Kulasekara through point before the end of the Powerplay. He’d hit one more sublime cover-drive off Dushmantha Chameera, in the first half of the innings, but largely laid low after that, mining singles and twos from the outfield instead. He ticked along, and Raina followed suit – the pair putting on 54 together for the third wicket.
When Raina departed in the 12th over, India were marginally shy of the required rate, but Kohli’s assured presence warded off panic. He let Yuvraj play himself into some kind of form, and kept India striding confidently toward the total. Memorably bludgeoning huge, consecutive sixes off Herath, Yuvraj also produced his most substantial innings since early 2014 – an 18-ball 35.
Pandya didn’t last long against Herath, but MS Dhoni was on hand to assist Kohli with the finish. Kohli crossed fifty in the penultimate over, then lifted Herath over cow corner to reap the winning runs.
Earlier, Dinesh Chandimal creamed a four second ball, then failed to score off the next eight deliveries, before sending an inside edge to the keeper off Nehra. Tillakaratne Dilshan’s modest form persisted at the other end, though he pilfered a few runs behind the wicket, before hooking Pandya to fine leg, to end on 18. With Shehan Jayasuriya also having been dismissed cheaply Sri Lanka had slipped to 31 for 3 at the beginning of the seventh over. India’s seamers had made good use of the juice in the pitch – Bumrah threatening batsmen’s edges, in particular.
Mathews and Kapugedera attempted to set down a platform for Sri Lanka’s hitters, but their going was slow. Halfway through the innings, Sri Lanka had mustered only 47. Just when Mathews finally began to find the boundary, hitting three fours from five balls, he got himself out to an innocuous ball. Attempting to run a single to third man, Mathews played Pandya back onto his stumps, to finish with 18 from 19 balls.
There were flashes of aggression from Kapugedera and Milinda Siriwardana, who put on 43 runs off the 31 balls they had together. Siriwardana even launched Ravindra Jadeja into the sightscreen, then nurdled him to the third man fence, in successive deliveries. But, as has often been the case in recent India v Sri Lanka matches, Ashwin dealt a decisive blow, removing Siriwardana in the 17th over, before Dasun Shanaka ran himself out off a free hit, a few balls later.
Kapugedara’s departure, though, brought a little acceleration. Thisara Perera bludgeoned two fours and a six in his first five balls, before charging Ashwin one too many times, in the penultimate over. Having anticipated the advance, Ashwin slipped the ball wide of off stump – conceding the extra, but claiming the wicket. Replays would show, though, that Perera shouldn’t have been given out stumped. Somehow, the batsman had managed to swing his bat back into the crease before Dhoni snapped the bails off, despite the square-leg umpire having given him out immediately. Late leg-side blows from Kulasekara gave the innings a final, if futile, fillip.