Cardiff: A ruthless India today stormed into the final of the ICC Champions Trophy with an emphatic eight-wicket victory over a hapless Sri Lanka, relying on a clinical all-round display to put themselves on course for yet another world title.
The Indians put in a disciplined bowling show to restrict Sri Lanka to 181 for eight and then overhauled the target with as many as 15 overs to spare to set up a summit showdown with hosts England on Sunday.
The 2011 World Cup champions maintained their unbeaten track record in this edition of the tournament winning all the four matches and are now gunning for their second Champions Trophy title having shared it with Sri Lanka in 2002.
While Ishant Sharma (3/33) and Ravichandran Ashwin (3/48) were the bowling heroes for India on a cloudy and chilly day at the Sofia Gardens, in-form Shikhar Dhawan (68) and Virat Kohli (58 not out) were the notable contributors with the bat in what turned out to be a completely lop-sided encounter.
Dhawan scored his second ODI half-century and his 77-run opening stand with Rohit Sharma (33) set up the easy victory. In a tournament where India have flexed their batting muscle, it were the bowlers who came to the party today after India decided to chase.
Even as the afternoon remained overcast, the Sophia Gardens wicket eased out considerably and Lanka’s spearheads Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara were barely threatening. There were a few times when the ball missed the edge of the bat, but Dhawan and Rohit were never in great discomfort.
Sharma gave the Indian innings a breezy start, punching Kulasekara through covers and Dhawan matched him with a similar stroke off Malinga, who struggled to find his bowling form on a big day. Malinga actually suffered a bit of humiliation when Dhawan upper cut him for a six at backward point.
As has been a feature in this tournament, Dhawan held one end up and except for lives on 18 and 62 – Kulasekara was the luckless bowler — the left-hander was a picture of confidence. His 50 came off 73 balls and was laced with six fours and a six.
The first time Rohit’s patience deserted him, he lost his wicket. Stepping out to club Mathews over extra cover, he got an inside edge and was bowled. That brought Kohli and except for a pitch invasion allegedly by Tamil Tiger supporters, there was no scare for the Indian batsmen.
Kohli, whose first boundary, a lofted extra cover drive off Kulasekara, came after 41 balls, scored 65 runs for the second-wicket with Dhawan as Sri Lanka were left chasing shadows in a horribly one-sided encounter.
Dhawan (68 off 92 balls) was finally stumped by Kumar Sangakkara after the batsman played full-stretched forward to leg-spinner Jeevan Mendis and failed to regain his crease by millimeters.
Kohli, who scored his 23rd half-century, with a six off Mendis, remained unbeaten after facing 64 balls and his 40-run stand with Suresh Raina (7 not out) saw India home and dry on a day that was heavily threatened by the elements.
Earlier, Ishant and Ashwin restricted Sri Lanka. Mathews was Lanka’s top-scorer with a 51.
India’s quick bowlers exploited the conditions very well on a track that saw some seam and bounce. While Bhuvneshwar Kumar moved the ball around, Ishant and Umesh Yadav used their build to torment the Lankan top order. For the first time in the championship, India’s new ball bowlers were like demons, extracting pace, lift and lateral movement all in tandem.
Ishant got appreciable lift at the Taff River end and at least three deliveries lifted disconcertingly. There were several play and misses but the deliveries that pitched, lifted and left the batsmen, fetched the wickets.
The fact that the first three Lankan batsmen were all caught at slips explains how the ball jagged around in the overcast conditions. The decision to bowl first after winning the toss was thus vindicated. The weather improved dramatically after a rainy morning. Great work by the ground staff ensured the start would be delayed by only 30 minutes. This was the best gift to about 14,000 fans that turned up, most of them Indians
While Team India retained their XI, Lanka made two changes. Vice-captain and in-form batsman Dinesh Chandimal failed a fitness test and made way for Jeevan Mendis while all-rounder Thisara Perera replaced Shaminda Eranga. Both failed with the bat.
Bhuvneshwar gave India an early breakthrough, the left-handed Kusal Perera paying the price for playing an expansive drive and edging to slips. But what hurt the Lankans was the departure of Tillakaratne Dilshan, who retired after scoring 12 off 14 balls.
The explosive opener had just struck Yadav for boundaries when he pulled up after playing an on-side stroke. Dilshan hobbled off the pitch, clutching his right calf. It was a technical knockout with Lanka reeling at 17 for two in the fourth over. Dilshan, of course returned at the fall of the seventh wicket at 164 in the 48th over, but it didn’t help the below-par run-rate. Dilshan remained not out on 18 off 21 balls.
Adding just five runs, the Lankans lost two more wickets in a space of three overs. Lahiru Thirimanne was gone for 7 and Kumar Sangakkara exited after a patient 17. Both left-handers perished in identical fashion, poking at deliveries that left them and Raina making no mistake at second slips.
Sangakkara left a dejected man, paying for the first indiscretion after a 44-ball stay that saw only one boundary from his normally productive bat.
The fourth-wicket partnership between Mahela Jayawardene and skipper Mathews produced 78 runs off 113 balls. It was the only period of consolidation by the Lankans. Jayawardene and Mathews profited from the Decision Review System after both were given out LBW by the on-field umpires.
Dhoni teased the Lankans by coming on to bowl in the 24th over. Dinesh Karthik took over the glovework and the Indian skipper tried his medium-pace and almost got a wicket off his second delivery. Aleem Dar gave Jayawardene out LBW much to the delight of the Indians, but hotspot detected a faint inside edge.
Dhoni has generally been a net bowler but to see him in ‘action’ in a Champions Trophy semifinal was indeed a surprise. Interestingly, his only ODI wicket came in the 2009 Champions Trophy in South Africa. He had clean bowled No. 4 West Indian batsman Travis Dowlin at the Wanderers. Today, Dhoni bowled four impressive overs conceding 17 runs.
With the wicket drying out, the Indian spinners got appreciable turn and Ravindra Jadeja got the prize wicket of Jayawardene in the 37th over of the Lankan innings. The man, who was responsible for Lanka’s march into the semis with a classy 84 not out against Australia at The Oval, ran out of luck trying to mow down Jadeja to mid-wicket.
Playing across the line to a ball that kept low, Jayawardene was bowled for 38 off 63 balls.
Mathews, who was saved by the DRS when on 5, scored a valuable 39 off 61 balls with Mendis for the fifth wicket. The 26-year-old Mathews was Lanka’s top scorer with 51 off 89 balls. He hit the only six of the innings, a perfectly timed on-the-rise stroke at long on off Ishant en route to his 14th ODI half-century.
Dropped a ball earlier by Virat Kohli at long-on, Mathews holed out next ball to Bhuvneshwar at cover, a carom ball from Ravichandran Ashwin (3/48) forcing the Lankan to play a wild stroke.
The quick exit of Thisara Perera and Nuwan Kulasekara didn’t help the Lankans and even after Dilshan returned in the 48th over, the run-rate didn’t get any better. Lanka managed just 54 runs in the last 10 overs, losing four wickets in the process.