Sri Lanka all but secured a place in the Asia Cup final through a thrilling win with one ball to spare against India, who came close again but couldn’t beat the Dubai curse on sides batting first. Since the start of 2020, Hong Kong and Scotland remain the only international teams to have lost when chasing at this ground.
Only an India defeat to Afghanistan can now jeopardise Sri Lanka’s progress to the final. India were left needing Pakistan to lose both of their remaining matches and lose big. And, oh, an India-Pakistan final was ruled out.
Poor start for India
Theekshana stunned KL Rahul with a reverse arm ball, a seam-up delivery that swung in so much it beat his inside edge even when he had stepped outside the crease. It was already established by then that this was a slow pitch and the powerplay overs were crucial. Virat Kohli went against his game to slog Madushanka while still on zero, and lost his off and middle stumps.
Rohit was joined by Suryakumar Yadav at 13 for 2 in the third over, and both struggled to come to terms with the pitch. Rohit, though, took the risks and began to look much more at home once he got three boundaries away. A measure of how well Rohit played is that in a 97-run partnership, Suryakumar scored just 29. His takedown of Wanindu Hasaranga was sensational, picking his spots and hitting two sixes and a four in the 12th over.
The last third falls apart
When that Hasaranga over finished, India were 109 for 2, a good comeback after that start. They had played themselves into a position where they could probably negate the toss disadvantage. Karunaratne, though, produced the wicket of Rohit with a slower short ball, caught at deep point.
After that, Sri Lanka used the slowness of the pitch superbly, banging the middle of it, giving the batters neither the room nor the pace to work with. Shanaka proved to be the surprise weapon, bowling only because Asitha Fernando was having an ordinary day. He got the wickets of Suryakumar and Hardik Pandya.
Rishabh Pant got off to a good start, racing away to 12 off 5, but once Sri Lanka cut off the pace available to him, even he struggled and holed out in the 19th over. An R Ashwin six in the final over took them to a par score.
The Nissanka-Mendis show
India had picked a spin attack for the left-hand heavy middle order, but they first needed the fast bowlers to deliver them the wicket of one of the right-hand openers. Mendis and Nissanka had other ideas. The absence of a third specialist fast bowler hurt Rohit and his men as the Sri Lanka openers broke free against Pandya after a slow start and then got stuck into Arshdeep Singh.
The first exchange with spin also went to Nissanka and Mendis. They took a boundary each off Chahal’s first over, and Mendis hit a lovely inside-out six against the run in Ashwin’s first.
At 97 for 0 in 11 overs, Sri Lanka were overwhelming favourites to win. The window opened for India with a reverse-sweep from Nissanka resulting in Chahal’s first wicket. Charith Asalanka and Danushka Gunathilaka played themselves into a hole and eventually holed out to the two spinners with a combined 1 run off 10 balls between them.
The big wicket came with a slider from Chahal that trapped Mendis at the start of the 15th over, giving India two new batters to bowl at.
Rajapaksa broke that early pressure with two timely assaults on Chahal and Ashwin in the 15th and 16th overs. He stepped out early, wasn’t necessarily close to the pitch of the balls, but swung two sixes over the leg side to keep Sri Lanka favourites going into the death overs.
Shanka batted clinically in overs 17, 18 and 19. A sliced boundary off Arshdeep kept the requirement down to 33 off three. A flicked six off Pandya in the 18th brought it down to 21 off 12 balls. Bhuvneshwar struggled in the 19th, bowling wide outside off as the plan, conceding two wides, and then a four through extra cover and one edged boundary fine of short third.
With just six to defend, Arshdeep bowled a fantastic last over with four yorkers for four runs in the first four balls. The fifth one was short of a length, beat Shanaka, who was late to start off on a bye. But Pant missed at the striker’s end, and Arshdeep non-striker’s, which also conceded the overthrow to end the match.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo