Shardul shines for India
Calcutta/Colombo: Shardul Thakur did feel a bit nervy when Sri Lanka were off to a breezy start, but was under no pressure whatsoever as his figures of four for 27 laid the foundation for India's six-wicket win at the Premadasa on Monday.
Their second win in the T20I tri-series helped India come close to sealing a berth in the final.
"I loved the effort... Really happy to receive the award. I've always dreamt of winning a game for India and here I am.
"Frankly, there were some nerves, but I was under no pressure at all," Man of the Match Shardul said.
Manish Pandey (42 not out) and Dinesh Karthik (39 not out) stitched an unbroken 68-run stand for the fifth wicket as India romped to victory with nine balls to spare in the rain-truncated game. However, it all boiled down to how the bowlers executed their plans after India won the toss and asked Sri Lanka to bat.
"Well, it was nothing special. We just discussed how to execute our plans and it worked out for the better part of the game," Shardul said.
Captain Rohit Sharma was all praise for his bowlers after they restricted Sri Lanka to 152 for nine in the game reduced to 19-overs-a-side due to rain. Sri Lanka, minus captain Dinesh Chandimal, were making good progress, having raced to 94 for two after 10 overs. But India's bowlers turned it around wonderfully well to concede only 58 in the last nine.
"A smart performance, especially from the bowlers. To restrict a batting unit like that was a great effort from the bowlers. The conditions weren't easy for them as there was a bit of dew on the ground which doesn't make things easy for the spinners or the pacers, but despite that, they executed their plans really well," Rohit said.
India were in a spot of bother when both Rohit and his opening partner Shikhar Dhawan departed with just 22 runs on the board inside four overs. Sri Lanka tried to claw their way back in the game when they got rid of both Suresh Raina and Lokesh Rahul with still 68 needed off 55 balls.
Fortunately for India, Pandey and Karthik ensured they took their side home safely. "We bat really deep and we haven't had a batting line-up like that for a long time.
"We have a lot of all-rounders, but the middle-order hasn't had many opportunities to bat in the recent past. Now as you saw in this game, Manish and DK batted extremely well.
"So, I can't really single out one performance. It was a complete team effort," Rohit analysed.
Speaking about his unbroken partnership with Karthik, Pandey said: "We had a good partnership in the end. It was important for me to stay till the end.
"We had discussed about our plans against Sri Lankan bowlers. Batting at number five, I felt I should be there till the end. We have not got too much of batting after numbers six and seven, so it was good for DK to stay with me and absorb the pressure."
All said and done, India will be assured of a place in the final only if they beat Bangladesh in their final round-robin phase match on Wednesday.
"We can't relax at all because all three teams are still alive in the tournament. They can all finish at four points each, so we need to continue the momentum from hereon," Rohit reminded of the possibility.
"The new guys have all taken their opportunities and made good use of them. So, we don't need to go and change anything. We just need to play the way we have over the last two years," he added.
Earlier, Kusal Mendis once again shone bright for Sri Lanka scoring 55 off 38 balls with the help of three fours and as many sixes, before Indian bowlers led by Shardul brought their side back into the game with wickets at regular intervals.
Along with Shardul, young off-spinner Washinton Sundar (two for 21) got important wickets as India made a superb comeback after leaking runs in the first 10 overs. Vijay Shankar, Yuzvendra Chahal and Jaydev Unadkat also accounted for a wicket each.
Sri Lanka's stand-in captain Thisara Perera felt his team was some 30-40 runs short. "This was not a 152-run wicket. The batting did well initially, but our middle-order failed. We were 30-40 runs behind. A total of 175-180 would be competitive and could have been defended as well," Perera pointed out.
Kusal, meanwhile, brought up his fourth fifty in five innings in just 31 balls. But India pegged Sri Lanka back again with quick wickets in the form of Perera, Jeevan Mendis and the big one of Kusal. While Perera perished in search of one big shot too many - caught by Chahal off Shardul - Washington went through Jeevan's defence with his guile.
The big blow to Sri Lanka came when Kusal departed next, gifting an easy catch to Rohit off Chahal's bowling. Shardul then dimissed Dasun Shanaka (19) and Dushmantha Chameera in consecutive balls in the final over of the Sri Lankan innings.