The absence of India's frontline pace bowlers proved an opportunity for the bench to prove itself, and Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur cashed in at the Holkar Stadium on Tuesday night, setting up a seven-wicket victory over Sri Lanka in the second T20I.
Saini rocked Sri Lanka with pace and accuracy while Thakur, the most successful with three wickets, displayed his variations as the pair shared five wickets. It broke the resolve of Sri Lanka to bat cautiously while attempting a big total after being asked to bat. It was effectively the first game of the three-match series after the Guwahati tie was washed out.
Saini claimed only two wickets—cleaning up Dasun Gunathilaka and bouncing out Bhanuka Rajapaksa—but he caused panic in the Sri Lankan ranks, returning 2/18 to be named Man-of-the-Match. Thakur's three wickets in his final over—two off the last two balls—came off slower deliveries when batsmen were desperate to hit boundaries. In the end, Sri Lanka managed only 142/9, which India overhauled easily by reaching 144/3 in 17.3 overs.
In-form KL Rahul was imperial in his stroke play, hitting glorious drives off Sri Lankan pacers in scoring a 32-ball 45, which ended in the 10th over when Wanindu Hasaranga cleaned him up with a googly.
India were not required to press on with an attacking approach adopted recently in T20I cricket. Shikhar Dhawan, in a race with Rahul to partner the rested Rohit Sharma but back after an injury, was content to play cautiously and his first four came only in the ninth over. Dhawan's innings (32 – 29b) ended when Sri Lanka took the right DRS call for a leg-before. Dhawan missed connecting while trying to sweep a Hasaranga delivery. Even while the decision was awaited, the crowd began chanting for Virat Kohli.
The Indian captain had sent Shreyas Iyer at his usual No. 3 position and the latter displayed finesse in his hitting front of the wicket. Iyer's first four, lofted over the bowler's head, had Kohli tapping the batsman's back. Kohli's reaction was same when Iyer hit a huge six off Hasaranga down the ground in the 16th over, having already hit two fours off the leg-spinner.
With 22 runs needed off the last four overs, Kohli hit Sri Lanka captain Lasith Malinga for a four and six in the 17th over. Before that, Kohli overtook Sharma as the leading run-getter in T20 cricket. Iyer (34 -- 26b, 3x4, 1x6) fell in the next over to a short ball from Lahiru Kumara, but Kohli pulled another short ball from him for six to seal victory.
The focus was on Jasprit Bumrah, to begin with. He looked a bit rusty without match practice—returning after a back injury, he came straight into this game without any domestic outing—but still finished with 1/32. After the bowlers putting up a fine show, the top four batsmen scored over 30.
India bowlers showed tremendous discipline in their line and length and did not look perturbed when Kusal Perera (34 – 28b) seemed set for a big innings. Kuldeep Yadav, introduced only in the 12th over, challenged the free-flowing Sri Lankan to hit him over the top with a wide delivery. Perera, who had by then hit three sixes, took on the chinaman bowler but Dhawan covered a lot of ground at long-on to take the catch on the boundary.
Perera's innings was the only highlight for Sri Lanka, who kept slipping as they lost wickets regularly and lacked an attacking game. Dhananjaya de Silva's 17 was the highest score for batsmen at No. 5 or lower, after each batsman in the top order failed to convert starts. Danushka Gunathilaka (20) and Avishka Fernando (22) added 38 for the first wicket with the latter playing spectacular strokes on the off-side before being dismissed by spinner Washington Sundar. Oshada Fernando fell to Kuldeep for 10, and then on the Sri Lankan batsmen's approach made it appear as if the wicket was difficult to bat on.
The final game will be played in Pune on Friday with India looking to win their third T20I series on the trot.