India crushed Sri Lanka by seven wickets and chased down their target of 263 with more than 13 overs to spare in what was a ruthless and stunning display by the Shikhar-Dhawan led team in the ODI series opener in Colombo. There were many outstanding performances for India in the match but three of them stood out for the impact they had on the encounter.
1. Shaw’s Breathtaking Strokeplay
Prithvi Shaw gave a glimpse of the prodigious talent he possesses with the bat and hammered the most majestic 43 runs off just 24 boundaries at the top of the order for India. He took the attack to the Sri Lanka bowlers but without taking any risks annihilated the opposition and set the chase up for India. Shaw’s blitzkrieg stunned Sri Lanka who at the half-way stage would have thought they were still in with a chance with a 250-plus total.
But Shaw had other plans. He carried on from where he had left in IPL 2021 and the Vijay Hazare Trophy this season and gave India a rollicking start hammering 9 boundaries within the powerplay - by the time he was dismissed in the 6th over India had already motored to 58 and were well on top of Sri Lanka. Shaw showcased his submine shot-making ability and his timing and placement was the highlight of his innings.
Shaw displayed his class and was particularly severe on anything on or outside the off stump with a majority of his boundaries coming off delightful punches through the cover and point region. His high back-lift, excellent hand-eye coordination and devastating stroke-play outside the off-stump was reminiscent of the great Virender Sehwag. Shaw had such an impact at the start of the Indian innings that he was adjudged the Player of the Match despite scoring just 43 runs. He completely demoralized the Sri Lankan pace attack and set India on their way - much like Sehwag did in the 2000s for the country. The Nawab of Najafgarh often got quickfire 30s and 40s in ODI cricket which pushed the opposition on the backfoot and set the tone for the rest of the match.
2. Kishan’s Debut Block-Buster
There is something about Ishan Kishan and debuts. After a scintillating start to his T20I career against England in Ahmedabad, the Mumbai Indians’ left-hander again produced a match-defining performance on ODI debut against Sri Lanka in Colombo. Kishan, on his 23rd birthday, smashed 59 from 42 deliveries taking on from where Shaw left and continued the Indian domination in the chase.
Kishan made his intentions clear from the very first delivery he faced in the innings - he danced down the track to Dhananjaya de Silva and lifted him for a maximum over long-on. His first delivery in ODI cricket was deposited for a six! This courage and audacity defined the rest of his performance as he continued to take calculated risks and tore into the Sri Lankan attack.
Kishan took a liking to the off-spinner and smashed him for three consecutive boundaries in the 8th over. Another feature of his enterprising and entertaining knock was his ability and willingness to use his feet against the spinners. Kishan came down the pitch on a number of occasions and produced some thunderous drives through cover and some mighty heaves back over the bowler’s head.
He raced to his half-century off just 33 deliveries and had blasted Sri Lanka out of the contest by the time he was dismissed for 59 off 42 deliveries in the 18th over. India had already knocked down more than half of the chase and were sitting pretty at 143 for 2.
After a brilliant 2020 for the Mumbai Indians in which he amassed more than 500 runs, Kishan was in indifferent form in IPL 2021 and could muster just 73 runs in 5 innings at a strike rate of 82.95 in the season.
India would be delighted that he has roared back to form and in some style making a big impact with the bat on his ODI debut just like he had done in the T20I format.
3. The Return of Kul-Cha
Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal - India’s two wrist spinners who formed a formidable match-winning pair in the middle overs between 2017 and 2019, made a return to the XI and played their first match together for the country since the World Cup encounter against England at Birmingham on June 30, 2019.
India won 24 of the 34 ODI matches in which Chahal and Yadav played together for the country between 2017 and 2019. They were the two highest wicket takers for India in these 34 matches - while the Chinman returned with 65 ODI wickets at an average of 22.73 and strike rate of 27.6, the leg break bowler bagged 53 wickets at an average of 29.26 and strike rate of 33.5. Both of them were also phenomenally restrictive with an economy rate of 4.94 and 5.23 - thus not only were they tormenting opposition line-ups by picking heaps of wickets they were also making run-scoring very difficult and controlling the game in the middle overs.
Their collective form started to decline post 2019 and soon they found themselves only making sporadic appearances for India in limited overs’ cricket. Yadav lost his wicket-taking prowess in the IPL too and was in poor form both in 2019 and 2020 and subsequently did not even get a game in 2021.
Sri Lanka had got off to a fine start and it was the leg break bowler who made the first breakthrough getting rid of the dangerous Avishka Fernando. Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Minod Bhanuka kept up the momentum and had taken the home team to 85 after 16 overs before the Chinaman struck twice in the same over to send both the batsmen back into the pavilion - his dismissal of Bhanuka was particularly pleasing as he tossed up a delivery outside the off stump tempting the left-hander to go for the drive inducing the edge to Shaw at first slip. From a positive of relative strength, Sri Lanka were in a spot of bother and the double blow meant that the rest of the batting unit had to revise the target from a potential 300-plus total to somewhere around 250.
Chahal came back at the death and again got a timely wicket for India just when the Sri Lankan captain Dasun Shanaka looked set to explode and provide the innings with the final impetus.
The wrist spinners picked four big wickets for India at important junctures in the match and went at a combined economy rate of 5.26. Their performance in Colombo was reminiscent of the great run they had as a pair for India between 2017 and 2019.
With two successive World T20 tournaments scheduled for 2021 and 2022 and the World Cup in India in 2023, the return of Kul-Cha as a wicket-taking threat in the middle overs will be a massive boost for India.