Virat Kohli celebrates after scoring a match-winning century against Sri Lanka at Hobart. (Getty Images)
Hobart: Chasing a stiff target of 321 in 40 overs to take the bonus point, India, powered by an outstanding century from Virat Kohli pulled off an incredible win at the Bellerive Oval on Tuesday to keep alive their hopes of making the CB Series finals.
Where their bowling had been decidedly lackluster in allowing Sri Lanka to post 320 with centuries to Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara, India’s batting was outstanding. Leading the way was Kohli with an unbeaten 133 off 86 balls – his ninth ODI century – and Gautam Gambhir, whose 64-ball 63 helped India raise 115 for the third wicket. When Gambhir was run out in the 28th over India were 120 runs away from their target, but up stepped Suresh Raina with his most significant contribution all series.
The night, however, belonged to Kohli who timed his innings to perfection. After pacing himself early on, through smart singles and brisk running, Kohli teed off with an array of shots that found the boundary with alarming regularity. His fifty took 44 balls but his next 83 needed just 42 balls as Kohli stunned Sri Lanka with a brilliant innings full of dazzling shots. He saved his best for the woeful Lasith Malinga, who he hit for 44 runs in 15 deliveries. Consecutive boundaries off Malinga in the 37th over sealed the most incredible of chases, meaning India will now await keenly the result of Australia’s clash with Sri Lanka on Friday. Should Australia win, they will face India in the best-of-three finals.
When they came out to bat after a disappointing display, the challenge ahead was monumental. But somehow the two out of form openers, Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, rallied to give the team a stand of 54 in 38 balls. This despite a power failure at Bellerive Oval that took out one of the floodlight towers. Sehwag sped to 30 off 16 balls before miscuing a pull shot to mid-on, after which Tendulkar kept the tempo up with a stroke-filled 39 off 30 balls. His dismissal, out lbw walking across his stumps to Malinga in the 10th over, ushered in the partnership of the match.
Gambhir and Kohli worked the ball into the gaps expertly and even when boundaries weren’t available – India once played out 35 balls without a four - they ensured the asking rate didn’t escalate to unmanageable levels with deft placement and harried running between the wickets.
Gambhir worked away at the gaps on the leg side with trademark whips, offsetting the bowlers by shuffling around his crease. Kohli too preferred the leg side, but whenever the ball was pitched short he slapped it into the off-side gaps. The pair ticked along purposefully to reach their respective half-centuries by the mid-point of India’s innings.
When Gambhir was caught short of his crease coming back for the second, Sri Lanka were in with an opportunity. Raina had been a failure all series, and there were questions raised as to why MS Dhoni had not promoted himself. But Raina proved an able ally to Kohli, whipping away anything on the pads – and there was plenty – to give his partner confidence. One off-drive off Nuwan Kulasekara was stunning, and when Raina clipped Thissara Perera for six the momentum had truly been snatched from Sri Lanka.
Kohli, at the other end, was unstoppable. He took three consecutive boundaries off Kulasekara in the 31st over to reduce the target to 73 in nine overs, but was at his best against Malinga in the 35th over. In six deliveries, Kohli slammed 24 runs: a flick past midwicket for two brought him a century off 76 balls, the next ball was flicked for six, a lofted drive over extra-cover brought four, and the next three balls disappeared to the deep square leg fence as Malinga veered onto the pads.
Few could have envisioned this at the half-way mark of the match, after Sri Lanka posted a big total. Needing to keep Sri Lanka to an attainable total, India’s bowlers instead fed with them with loose deliveries and two former captains, Dilshan and Sangakkara, replied with superb centuries.
Dilshan overcame some early jitters to a career-best 160 not out off 165 balls, while Sangakkara shrugged off an indifferent run with 105 off 87 balls. The pair joined forces in the 12th over after Mahela Jayawardene (22) steered Ravindra Jadeja to Sehwag at slip, and immediately set into their paces.
Taking full toll of an insipid bowling performance, Dilshan and Sangakkara picked the gaps and ran brilliantly between the wickets. They made sure the bad balls were hammered away, with Dilshan taking a liking to Umesh Yadav who went for 56 in eight overs. With Jadeja and R Ashwin dropping short too often, the Sri Lankan pair was able to rock back and slice or pull the ball.
Dilshan raised three figures in the 41st over, and Sangakkara followed with his century off 84 balls. He was out soon after, bowled by Praveen Kumar, and even a brief collapse didn’t reflect much on the scorecard as Dilshan stuck around to the end.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, it wasn’t to be their day. Having batted so well, their bowlers turned in a terrible performance and the fielders fumbled and allowed too many boundaries. Malinga was the worst hit, conceding 96 runs in 7.4 overs, and the manner in which he was dismantled highlighted the desire burning inside India’s batsmen.