Kolkata, Jan 12 (IANS) Wicketkeeper-batter KL Rahul stepped up when it mattered the most to pull India out of a tricky stage by slamming his 12th ODI fifty and carried them to a hard-fought four-wicket victory over Sri Lanka in the second ODI at Eden Gardens, here on Thursday.
After Kuldeep Yadav and Mohammed Siraj picked three wickets each to bundle out Sri Lanka for 215, the visitors’ bowlers reduced India to 86/4. But Rahul kept his calm and batted sensibly under pressure to make an unbeaten 64 off 103 balls, and struck a crucial 75-run partnership with Hardik Pandya to take India over the line with 40 balls to spare, giving the hosts’ an unassailable 2-0 series lead.
Chasing 216, Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill smacked six boundaries in the first four overs. But the duo fell in the span of four balls — Rohit nicked behind off Chamika Karunaratne without any footwork while Gill picked out short midwicket off Lahiru Kumara through a short-arm pull.
Kumara inflicted more damage by getting a length ball to come in sharply and Virat Kohli, stuck in the crease, got an inside edge to the stumps, as India’s top three fell in power-play. Shreyas Iyer pulled with conviction and was lucky in getting boundaries off leading edges. But he played the wrong line off Kumara and was trapped lbw. He took a review, but replays showed ball clipping leg-stump.
Rahul joined forces with Hardik to get India’s chase back on track. The duo took their time to weather the early storm. After India’s 100 was achieved, the duo began to punish loose deliveries from the Sri Lankan bowlers.
When Rajitha bowled too full and sprayed down leg, Hardik was quick in driving through mid-off and flicking through backward square leg for boundaries. When Hasaranga overpitched, Rahul leant forward to drive through cover for four. In the next over, Kumara overpitched and Rahul lofted over mid-off for another four.
As the ball started to lose shine, India began to cruise. Hardik brought out a front foot drive against Dhananjaya de Silva, the sixth bowling option and then flicked off Karunaratne for another four. But in an attempt to drive again off Karunaratne, Hardik was stuck at crease and nicked behind to keeper.
Axar Patel began well with an uppish drive through vacant extra cover gap off Karunaratne for a boundary which was called no-ball. He made full use of the free hit by fiercely pulling over deep mid-wicket and put the pressure back on Sri Lanka.
His attempt to take the aerial route backfired when his lofted extra drive was caught by long-off against de Silva. After Rahul got his fifty in 93 balls on a no-ball, Kuldeep brought out a fierce cut through backward point for a boundary.
Rahul took India closer to win with flicks and inside edges fetching him boundaries off Rajitha, followed by a top-edge on pull flying over keeper’s head to make it three fours in an over. Kuldeep finished off the chase with a four slapped through mid-off to give India series win.
Earlier, Siraj overcame a wayward start to pick 3/30 in 5.4 overs, while Kuldeep was excellent in the middle overs to take 3/51 in his ten overs. Umran Malik shined with 2/48 in seven overs while Axar Patel was miserly in his 1/16 off five overs.
Sri Lanka were going good, including debutant Nuwanidu Fernando getting a fifty on debut and stitching a 73-run partnership with Kusal Mendis. But the introduction of spin from the 17th over saw them implode from 102/2 to 126/6. It took some lofty hitting from Wanindu Hasaranga, Dunith Wellalage and Kasun Rajith to take Sri Lanka over 200.
India found early movement through Siraj and Mohammed Shami. While Shami operated with nagging line and length, Siraj was a bit wayward as Avishka Fernando hit him for a hat-trick of boundaries.
But Siraj had the last laugh, getting a wobble-seam delivery to nip back in and take Fernando’s inside edge to crash into the stumps. Nuwanidu, getting off the mark after ten deliveries, started to be more comfortable and looked compact in his punches, drives and upper-cutting over the slip cordon.
Mendis was quick in dispatching anything overpitched, too short and down leg for boundaries. His stay came to an end when Kuldeep trapped him lbw with a googly spinning past outside edge and hitting high on back leg. Mendis reviewed, but couldn’t change the on-field decision.
More trouble followed Sri Lanka as Axar sneaked through the gate of de Silva and brushed the pad before ricocheting into middle and off stump and Nuwanidu, after reaching his fifty, was run out after a horrible mix-up.
Kuldeep’s good day continued when he uprooted the leg-stump of captain Dasun Shanaka and then got a good dip on a googly to Charith Asalanka for completing a soft caught and bowled dismissal.
Hasaranga took on Kuldeep by hitting three fours and a six, but he failed to keep a short of length ball down off Umran and gave a catch to backward point. Karunaratne hit Umran for three fours, but couldn’t keep a punch down off him and fell in similar fashion.
Wellalage swept, hooked and steered well in his 34-ball 32, before punching straight to backward point off Siraj, who ended the innings by castling Kumara with a fast, straight delivery.
Brief Scores: Sri Lanka 215 all out in 39.4 overs (Nuwanidu Fernando 50, Kusal Mendis 34, Mohammed Siraj 3/30, Kuldeep Yadav 3/51) lost to India 219/6 in 43.2 overs (KL Rahul 64 not out, Hardik Pandya 36; Chamika Karunaratne 2/51, Lahiru Kumara 2/64) by four wickets