x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Samaraweera keeps his cool to seal victory

Batsman guides Sri Lanka to victory as India beaten by five wickets despite visitors having experienced players missing.

On paper it was not looking good for Sri Lanka yesterday going into their one-day match with India. They were missing the explosive presence of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Sanath Jayasuriya's invaluable experience at the top. There was no Mahela Jayawardene or Chamara Silva to hold together the middle overs.

One of their batsmen was making his debut (Lahiru Thirimanne) and five others had played just 18 one-day games between them. All those statistics, however, mattered little last night as "Test specialist" Thilan Samaraweera stood like the proverbial rock to guide them to a comfortable five-wicket win over India in the second match of the Tri Nations tournament in Bangladesh with an inspired unbeaten hundred.

Joining his captain Kumar Sangakkara at the crease with Sri Lanka 77 for two in the 16th over, Samaraweera (105 not out) and his senior pro put their long international experience to good use, milking the Indian attack without any show of force or indulgence. They added 122 runs in 22.4 overs to set the stage for Thissara Perera's (36 not out off 15 balls) fireworks later that saw Sri Lanka pass their target of 280 with 12 balls to spare.

Samaraweera, one of Test cricket's top batsmen with an average in the 50s, has appeared in just 30 ODIs in a career that began with a Test century on debut against India in 2001. Better known as the one to be hit by a bullet in the militants attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Pakistan last year, the 33-year-old showed his ability in the shorter version of the game with an innings that never looked to be leaving the lower gears, yet came at virtually a run-a-ball.

Samaraweera's calm presence took the pressure off Sangakkara, who had watched Upul Tharanga - the only other Lankan in yesterday's XI with more than 35 one-dayers in his career - depart very early in his innings, offering a tame return catch to Harbhajan Singh. With Samaraweera running well and rotating the strike, Sangakkara got those much-needed boundaries that kept Sri Lanka on par with the asking rate.

Disaster, however, struck in the 37th over when Sangakkara hit Harbhajan Singh straight to Suresh Raina at mid-off. The Sri Lankan was cursing himself as he left the ground, but the smile was back as Samaraweera carried on the battle and stayed till the end, crossing three-figures for the second time in ODIs along the way. Credit for Sri Lanka's second win of the tournament should also go to Chanaka Welegedara. The left-arm seamer, playing just his sixth ODI, recovered from an early Virender Sehwag lashing to finish with the first five-for of his career, which restricted India from getting more.

Bowling straight and into the toes, Welegedara castled three of his victims to crush India's dream of crossing 300, which looked a distinct possibility when Sehwag was at the crease. India had raced to fifty in the seventh over and Sehwag blazed his way to 47 from just 30 balls before being foxed by a slower delivery from Welegedara. Sehwag was the Sri Lankan's third victim; he had earlier sneaked a yorker underneath Gautam Gambhir's bat and got Virat Kohli to edge behind the stumps. With the top three down and India 71 for three in the ninth over, scoring slowed.

Just 13 runs came from the five overs after the first Powerplay as Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh set about rebuilding the innings. The duo added 99 runs for the fourth wicket, before the Indian captain departed. But Yuvraj stayed on, top-scoring with 74 and, aided by late cameos from Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja, helped India post 279 for nine. That, however, proved inadequate in the end thanks to Samaraweera.

Meanwhile, Sudeep Tyagi has been named in India's 16-man squad for the two-Test series against Bangladesh later this month. The 22-year-old seamer rose to prominence with strong performances for the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League. He made his one-day international debut in the abandoned one-dayer against Sri Lanka at the Feroz Shah Kotla last month. In the only other change, selectors have dropped Subramaniam Badrinath and have recalled wicketkeeper batsman Dinesh Karthik.

The first Test against Bangladesh is scheduled to begin in Chittagong on January 17, while the second would be played in Dhaka from January 24. arizvi@thenational.ae