| Lakshmipathy Balaji in action at the Rangiri Stadium in Dambulla on Sunday. (AFP)
Dambulla: Rahul Dravid’s gritty effort went in vain as India ran out of steam, crashing to a 12-run defeat against hosts Sri Lanka in their last group B league match of the Asia Cup one-day cricket tournament here Sunday. Dravid led the fightback after early loss of wickets with a courageous 82 off 96 balls, but the target off 283 proved too stiff for the Indians as they finished at 270 for eight in a thrilling day-night encounter at the Rangiri Stadium.
The Indian vice-captain shared a 133-run fifth wicket partnership with Yuvraj Singh who overcame a scratchy start to slam a vital 47.
Nuwan Zoysa was named Man of the Match.
Despite the loss, India advance to next round of the six-nation tournament as the second team in the group and will take on group A runners-up Bangladesh in Colombo on Wednesday.
Indians had a disastrous start as Sachin Tendulkar (11) failed once again and his makeshift partner Parthiv Patel (6) did nothing of note either. Virender Sehwag (37) played a few sparkling strokes before a direct throw sent him packing and Sourav Ganguly (6) pulled at a delivery too close to his body.
Dravid and Yuvraj staged a recovery to the extent that Indians after being 71 for four at one stage, were 200 for four in the 40th over, the same as the Sri Lankans were at this juncture.
For Sri Lanka, Nuwan Zoysa took three for 49 besides connecting a direct hit to find Sehwag short of his crease.
Yuvraj departed in the 41st over through a miscued hit off Chaminda Vaas after making 47 from 78 balls with four fours.
Mohammed Kaif immediately made his presence felt by slamming Zoysa through the covers and then picking him up and depositing him beyond the wide midwicket stands.
Dravid departed in the 46th over when he went on the backfoot to Muttiah Muralidharan and was bowled for 82 from 96 balls with eight fours and a six.
That sounded the end of India’s chase as Sri Lankan bowlers closed out the game in a professional manner.
Earlier, Sri Lanka set new benchmark in run-scoring with a total of 282 for four. All Sri Lankan batsmen on view combined well without quite converting those good starts into eye-catching scores. The first two wickets raised 63 and 65 runs and then Kumara Sangakkara (57) and Mahela Jayawardene (58 not out) made Indian fielders scramble with a 116-run fourth wicket stand from 90 balls.
This is the highest total ever witnessed in Dambulla’s short international history of 14 matches, improving upon the 262 which Australians had made against Sri Lanka last season.
Indians still relied on three seamers and a spinner combination but the fifth bowler quota between Sourav, Sehwag and Yuvraj cost 77 runs. India must now be hugely worried about the form of Zaheer Khan who conceded only 39 runs from his nine overs but his gingerly landing is now a matter of concern for his and team’s supporters. Avishka Gunawardene, fresh from his impressive half century against the UAE Saturday, was promoted at the top of the order and relished the chance with a powerful 49 from 77 balls with five fours.
Saman Jayantha, playing only his eighth game, struck 34 from 40 balls but what stayed in mind was his brilliantly hooked six off Irfan Pathan.
India’s next two wickets came through some good work in the field. Gunawardene flicked Kumble towards fine leg but wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel intercepted and threw it back to the bowler who made the most of batsmen’s hesitation.
Gunawardene’s 49 came from 77 balls and included five fours. Skipper Atapattu moved effortlessly to his half century from 76 balls with three fours before he took his chance against Yuvraj’s powerful arm at point and paid the penalty. (PTI)