This was supposed to happen and it happened. What many thought would be a walk in the park for India, it got the needed shock treatment from Sri Lanka at The Oval on Thursday.
The match was always theirs to lose. More so after they posted 321/6 on the board and their bowlers and captain lost the plot as the attack looked ordinary and posed no difficulty for Sri Lanka batsmen to play their shots freely. Yes, Indian bowlers faced some harsh realities. Well, fingers might be pointed at the bowlers for not defending 300-plus against an inexperienced batting line-up, but India should also look at the way their batsmen went about business.
It might be harsh to blame the batsmen considering three of them posted fifty-plus scores and one of them — Shikhar Dhawan — even scored a century and shared 138 for the opening wicket. Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni too made their presence felt. But all that meant nothing in the end as Sri Lanka backed by a power-packed batting performance from Kusal Mendis and Danushka Gunathilaka made mockery of the total and threw open the qualification race from Group B.
India, South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have all won a match each and are level on points. It will now come down to the last league fixtures with India needing to beat South Africa on Sunday.
After being inserted, Dhawan and Rohit gave India a strong start once again, but having laid a good platform, neither of them accelerated and left it to the middle-order to do all the work. Yes, there was a tinge of grass and moisture on the surface, but this Sri Lanka attack looked so pedestrian for most part that a side like England would have run away with the match in the first half itself. India chose a wait-and-watch ploy and scored 80 runs between overs 25-40, for the loss only two wickets.
It is a ploy that has given them success, but questions are bound to be raised, particularly at a time where totals of 350-plus have become the norm in recent times.
That they lost three wickets in the space of eight overs didn’t help matters, but with Dhawan settled at one end, he should have perhaps gone after the attack a lot earlier than he did after completing his century. Dhoni took time, but eventually upped the ante despite running out of partners at the end.
“I personally thought that we had enough on the board halfway. I think batting did really well. We obviously have to consolidate and then explode in the end, and that’s the way we always play. We’re not a side that always plays explosive cricket throughout the 50 overs. But if a side comes out and plays cricket with that kind of mindset and executes their shots so well, then you have to take your hat off sometimes and say very well played,” India captain Kohli said.