India 213 (Rohit 53, Rahul 39, Wellalage 5-40, Asalanka 4-18) beat Sri Lanka 172 (Wellalage 42*, de Silva 41, Kuldeep 4-43, Bumrah 2-30, Jadeja 2-33) by 41 runs
On a surface where India picked three frontline spinners and lost all ten of their wickets to spin for the first time in ODIs, it was the quality of their fast bowlers that made the telling difference. Defending 214, India had Sri Lanka three down before bowling a single ball of spin, and that had repercussions that rippled through the rest of the game.
When India did so, they wrapped up a 41-run win, a misleading margin in a contest full of tension, also sealing a place in the Asia Cup final while ending Bangladesh’s chances. Sri Lanka’s winning streak ended at 13 ODIs, but Wellalage, all of 20 and playing just his 13th ODI, remained proudly undefeated at the finish. He was unbeaten having top-scored with a fluent and precociously composed 42, and it was his less significant contribution to the match; he had looked unplayable at times while taking his maiden five-for earlier in the day, each of his victims a member of India’s top six.
Maheesh Theekshana had bowled inside the powerplay but it took the introduction of a traditional fingerspinner for the nature of the pitch to become clear. It was immediate, with Wellalage getting his first ball to dip on Shubman Gill and turn past his outside edge to hit off stump. By his third over, Wellalage had sent back all of India’s top three. The balls that got him his second and third wickets showed how challenging the surface was: the first stopped on Virat Kohli to have him caught off an uppish flick, and the second skidded through low, with the angle, to bowl Rohit for 53 off 48 balls.
Ishan Kishan and KL Rahul steadied India with a fourth-wicket stand of 63, and it seemed, at 154 for 3 in the 30th over, that they were on course for at least 250. But Rahul fell to another ball that stuck in the pitch, followed by Kishan failing to get the desired elevation while looking to hit Charith Asalanka over short extra-cover. Wellalage then struck a critical blow with the last ball of his spell, finding sharp turn to have Hardik Pandya caught behind while defending, leaving India needing to squeeze every drop from their extra batting depth, with the inclusion of Axar Patel at No. 8.
It wasn’t quite to be, even as Axar struck an important 26, with the part-time offspin of Asalanka claiming 4 for 18 in nine overs either side of a brief rain delay, in the clearest indication of how this pitch was playing.
Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj took the new ball from each end in India’s defense, and the the difference in quality between these two and Sri Lanka’s injury-hit pace attack was quickly evident, with the scorecard reading 25 for 3 inside the eighth over. Both found swing, but more significant was the movement and bounce they extracted by hammering away on the shorter side of a good length.
There was Bumrah’s genius too. To Kusal Mendis, he followed a searing, stump-bound yorker with a dipping slower delivery of similar length and wider line. With lbw in the back of his mind and his front leg wary of moving across his stumps, Mendis reached for the ball and spooned one to short cover.
Kuldeep and wicketkeeper Rahul then combined again to have Asalanka caught off the glove while sweeping, before de Silva and Shanaka staged a minor recovery. Ravindra Jadeja ended that partnership, changing ends and finding extra turn to have Shanaka caught at slip, and that ball illustrated his threat perfectly: he was getting some balls to turn and others to go with the angle from roughly the same area, while delivering with more or less the same release.
Axar, however, was struggling to replicate this two-way threat: he barely got anything to turn against his angle from wide of the crease, and de Silva in particular milked him. Axar finished with 0 for 29 in five overs.
De Silva and Wellalage continued to score quickly even after Axar’s removal from the attack, and began to play shots that may have worried India considerably. De Silva punched Bumrah crisply off the back foot for four behind point, and in the next over Wellalage slog-swept Kuldeep for the first six of the innings. By the end of that over, the 33rd, the seventh-wicket pair had put on 49 in 47 balls.
But after four quiet overs of only nine runs from Bumrah, Hardik and Jadeja, Wellalage stepped out to drill Jadeja past mid-off for four, however de Silva couldn’t execute the same over mid-on, and India had their opening. Hardik then sent Theekshana back with a slower ball, and the end followed swiftly. Kuldeep bowled Kasun Rajitha with a wrong’un that was too good for a No. 10 before Matheesha Pathirana missed a sweep two balls later.
Wellalage remained stuck at the other end watching this unfold, a fate that can often befall No. 8s. On the evidence of his innings, though, he won’t be batting there for much longer, and when Wanindu Hasaranga returns from injury, Sri Lanka will have one hell of a selection headache.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo