A sublime Virat Kohli hunted down Sri Lanka’s 286, to complete India’s absolute domination in this series, while checking off the only conspicuous individual milestone that had been missing from the tour thus far – a Kohli hundred.
Five India batsmen have hit centuries in the series, but for poise and execution, Kohli’s cannot be beaten. He arrived with India in slight trouble, watched on aghast as his middle order deserted him in a crucial period, but picked apart the Sri Lanka death bowlers expertly, to see India home in the penultimate over. MS Dhoni was not on hand to deliver his trademark late-innings barrage, but as the target neared Kohli even struck a helicopter-shot of sorts, to put the ball in the stands behind long-on, and sealed the match with a six, for good measure. Having finished on 139* off 126, Kohli roared at the game’s conclusion, plucked a stump from the pitch and soaked in the applause from a delighted Ranchi crowd.
All this despite an expertly paced 139* from a desperate Angelo Mathews earlier in the match, and a four-wicket haul for Ajantha Mendis, on the first track of the series that offered significant turn. Having been the first Sri Lanka captain to lead his side to a Test series victory in England this year, Mathews now has the ignominy of presiding over Sri Lanka’s worst-ever one-day whitewash. Though, having taken two wickets and a fine catch in addition to his ton, Mathews might fairly feel his team could have supported him better.
Every other centurion in the series had sought to ground himself with a quiet period early in his innings, but in chases, Kohli is immune to the laws that bind other batsmen. He arrived at 14 for 2, and creamed a square boundary off his fourth ball. His strike rate did not stray far from a run-a-ball after that. An economical push through cover that sent the ball screaming to the rope, and a wristy flick to the midwicket boundary – both off Shaminda Eranga – were the highlights of his early stay.
Amabati Rayudu began with more jitters, but was soon fluent alongside his captain, as the pair forged a 136-run stand that became the gut of the chase. Rayudu found most of his runs in the arc between cover and midwicket, but Kohli milked the spinners square adeptly. Having travelled at 3.4 runs per over in the mandatory Powerplay, India were ticking along at over five by the 20th. Kohli drove through the covers for four to reach his half-century in 48 balls, eight overs before Rayudu managed the same milestone.
The pair would be separated by a running mix up, which Kohli immediately apologised for. But as long as Kohli stood at the crease, India’s hopes never dwindled, even with wickets tumbling at the other end.
Sri Lanka’s best hope of locking down the chase came soon after Rayudu’s dismissal, when they, and the other India batsmen, managed to starve Kohli of the strike. Kohli faced only 16 of the 60 balls between the 36th and 45th overs, while debutant Kedar Jadhav, Stuart Binny and R Ashwin all lost their wickets to Ajantha Mendis, as a sometimes-disappointed, sometimes-irate Kohli watched on from the other end. During that 10-over stretch, Kohli also took the single that took him to his 14th ton in ODI chases. India required 47 off the last five overs, but with a capable Akshar Patel in at No. 9, Kohli broke the back of the required rate with a six and a four off Mendis, then struck two more sixes off the same bowler to knock off the final runs.
“We’re playing for pride, and we’re not the kind of team to lose 5-0,” Mathews had said at the toss, and when his own top order failed again, Mathews took on the job himself. Having walked in at 73 for 3, then seen his team slip to 84 for 4, Mathews provided first the spine, then the muscle of Sri Lanka’s first competitive score of the series.
He had Lahiru Thirimanne for company for the recovery phase, and their 128-run stand was measured work. Kohli had his three frontline spinners in operation through the middle overs, and despite the turn on offer, and the men Kohli had placed around the bat, Thirimanne and Mathews worked themselves into a steady rhythm. Both scored heavily through the leg side, mining the gaps through midwicket and fine leg most often, and occasionally preying on a bad ball to reap a boundary.
Sri Lanka did not lose a wicket in the batting Powerplay for the first time in the series, but they were also thoroughly unambitious through that stretch. Mathews hit a six off the 40th over to reach his half-century, and yet Sri Lanka scored only 26 with the field pulled in. That conservatism would pay. Mathews gathered pace at the death to help claim 114 from the last 10 overs.
Having been 53 off 79 balls at the end of the 40th over, Mathews was soon loping towards three figures, as he launched Ambati Rayudu’s 41st over for two sixes and a four. Mathews has been nervous in the vicinity of three figures in the past, but he was quickly through the nineties in Ranchi, to claim his hundred with a flick to leg side. He celebrated it with a cathartic skip, and more catharsis was to follow.
Akshar Patel’s 48th over featured three towering leg-side sixes off Mathews’ blade, and Ashwin’s 49th had two more. When the innings wound down, with a string of wickets having fallen at the other end, Mathews had hit 10 sixes in total – the most for a Sri Lanka batsman, aside from Sanath Jayasuriya.
But not even Mathews’ desperation was enough to foil India. Mathews’ 139 not out would be trumped by the same score, from his opposite number. Mathews may have had an epic year in Tests, but the other rising young leader in world cricket proved he is still the gold-standard in ODIs.