Virat Kohli’s authoritative 77 set the agenda, but India began to falter when he had cramps around the mid-point of the innings. His exit, run out while attempting a hopeless single, left India’s lower order 53 tricky runs to get. Ashwin and Jadeja did the rest, braving the Lasith Malinga threat and the epidemic of nerves that had blighted the middle order.
For some reason Sri Lanka did not go hard enough at India after Kohli’s fall. Malinga, who yorked the stumps with a slingshot throw from mid-on to catch a diving Kohli short in the 36th over, had four overs left. Mahela Jayawardene brought his trump card on quickly, but didn’t provide him with the attacking fields the situation demanded. Malinga was off after two quick overs that were handled well, and by the time he returned for the 45th over, India needed only 17 more. It was too late – Ashwin and Jadeja had played themselves in, and ticked the runs away with composure.
The only moment of indiscretion came when India needed one to win. Ashwin tried to loft Angelo Mathews down the ground and hit it straight up in the air. Three men converged, and mid-off, who should have taken it easily, backed off following some miscommunication, as India scrambled through for the win. The fielder at mid-off was Malinga.
The batting effort capped Ashwin’s best day on tour, when he reduced his pace, tossed the ball up, and extracted a lot more spin than is the norm in Perth. He came into the attack at an ideal moment, soon after Zaheer Khan had dismissed Kumar Sangakkara in the 17th over with an away seamer. That was Zaheer’s second moment of excellence against a left-hand batsman, after he took just 10 balls in his opening spell to work over Upul Tharanga. Thereafter, Ashwin suffocated Sri Lanka’s momentum in partnership with Zaheer. Between them, they reaped combined returns of 20-2-76-5. That included 14 of the 20 Powerplay overs, which yielded 4 for 42.
Tillakaratne Dilshan fought through Zaheer’s opening burst, and was primed to take off after beavering to 48, but gifted his wicket away. Dinesh Chandimal took charge, walking across his stumps to clip Praveen fine, steering with soft hands into the covers and setting himself up early for swings to the leg side. He had added 52 in 11.2 overs with Jayawardene, at which point Ashwin began to wield his influence.
The carom ball was scarcely used, as Ashwin focused on loop, drift and traditional turn to good effect. He first induced Jayawardene to top-edge a sweep to fine leg in the batting Powerplay. He then dented hopes of a quick recovery by weaving a sharp offbreak past Thisara Perera, before dismissing Chandimal in the 44th over. That put paid to Sri Lanka’s prospects of a flying finish, though Mathews slogged hard and ran harder to provide some late succour.
Sri Lanka’s all-seam attack, in contrast to their opponents earlier in the day, attempted to use pace and bounce to unsettle India. Virender Sehwag perished attempting his patent upper cut, which did not carry beyond third man. Sachin Tendulkar’s fans enjoyed 48 runs of sublime batting, before he once again succumbed without completing the most eagerly anticipated century in cricket history. Until he played on to Mathews, attempting a cheeky dab to third man, Tendulkar lined up a bunch of pleasing shots, with head stationary and feet moving well. A firm front-foot push off Malinga was as good as any stroke played until then in the day, until Kohli began to dazzle.
Kohli imperiously flicked his second ball through square leg for four. The extra pace on the pitch seemed to play into Kohli’s hands, as he pranced into position early to play attacking shots on either side of the pitch. His control was epitomised by the ease with which he pulled a pacy Dhammika Prasad bumper through square leg. Rohit Sharma’s lethargic movements at the other end were only accentuated by Kohli’s quick feet and hands.
India were coasting when Rohit played a loose cut to be caught at point. Suresh Raina kept the flag aflutter with a couple of pleasing cover drives, but the threat of the short ball was imminently around the corner. With Kohli cramping, Raina took it upon himself to go for the boundaries, and holed out while trying to pull Mathews. MS Dhoni too returned without making a dent, late on a pull that spiralled to mid-on. When Kohli ran himself out, India had lost three big wickets for 24 in 3.5 overs. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, that was the last time Malinga hit the stumps.