After the West Indies left Indian shores in questionable circumstances, the Board of Control for Cricket in India succeeded in getting the Sri Lankan team to India. Some senior Sri Lankans were peeved by an external tour suddenly thrown in but finally they all arrived; albeit less prepared and with a few under-experienced players. The first ODI of the series was played at Cuttack’s Barabati Stadium, where India’s opening batsmen Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan guided their team to an emphatic 169-run victory over the Sri Lankans. The first-wicket stand of 231 runs laid a solid foundation for the Indians, who ended up scoring a commanding 363/5 in 50 overs. The target was far too big for Sri Lanka to make a game out of it as the entire team was bowled out for 194 in 39.2 overs, giving India a 1-0 series lead.
Virat Kohli led India in the absence of MS Dhoni but he lost the toss. Sri Lanka asked India to bat first. To give the Sri Lankans some credit, they bowled quite well and didn’t allow Rahane and Dhawan much leeway in the initial stages. But the bowlers were not adequately supported in the field; otherwise the story could have been different. Despite the absence of Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara, Dhawan and Rahane were pegged back at times and got lucky on a few occasions. Wicketkeeper Kumara Sangakkara dropped Dhawan in the 7th over, when India’s score read 20/0. It wasn’t a difficult chance but the ball popped out of Sanga’s gloves to show the under-preparedness. At 76/0 in the 18th over, Sangakkara dropped Rahane off Thisara Perera. This was a more difficult chance but Sanga is known to have taken such catches. Though India had not lost any wickets, their rate of scoring was quite poor. Until the 20th over, Lankan bowlers kept India openers in check as only 90 runs were conceded. Suraj Randiv had come to the Sri Lanka side after nearly three years but he was doing quite well, having yielded only 8 runs in his first two overs.
The turning point in favor of India came in the 21st over, bowled by Randiv. Dhawan and Rahane collected 17 runs from it with both Dhawan and Rahane reaching the half-century marks. The two batsmen got emboldened after this and they launched a mid-innings explosion in which 96 runs were added in just 8 overs. At the end of over no.33, India crossed the double century mark and the openers reached their respective hundreds. Shikhar Dhawan was the first Indian wicket to fall in the 35th over but not before he and Rahane had carried the score to 231. With 15 overs remaining in the innings, India was on a sound footing. Rahane followed Dhawan soon afterwards but India still had the batting firepower. Playing his 200th ODI, Suresh Raina began blasting the Lankan bowlers straightaway with Kohli providing him a quiet support at the end. The two batsmen added 52 runs for the third wicket, when Raina got out for a 34-ball 52 that included 4 fours and 3 sixes. In the process Raina also completed 5000 runs in the ODIs. The remaining batsmen carried the total to a very challenging 363/5 at the end of 50 overs with even Akshar Patel clobbering 14 off just 4 balls.
Chasing 364 for victory in any ODI game is a monumental task. Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga added a labored 31 in the first nine over before Dilshan edged Umesh Yadav. Sangakkara joined Tharanga and the two added 30 for the second wicket. But the Lankan innings was going nowhere against the Indian bowlers, who had a huge cushion from their big score. The only batsman, who looked somewhat in command, was Mahela Jayawardene. The old guard did his best in scoring 43 off 36 balls with 6 fours and a six. Jayawardene departed as the fifth Lankan wicket in the 26th over with Sri Lanka still requiring 234 at the rate of more than 9 runs per over. For India, Ishant Sharma claimed four wickets in his 8-over spell that yielded 34 runs. Umesh Yadav got 2/24 in 6.2 overs and the Sri Lankan innings was weighed down by the staggering target. Akshar Patel and Suresh Raina also bowled tidy spells and the only Indian bowlers, who couldn’t trouble the Lankans were Varun Aaron and Ravichandran Ashwin. Aaron was hit for 26 in his 4.1 overs while Ashwin’s 9 overs cost him 52. Regardless, the chase kept getting more and more difficult as Sri Lanka slowly and surely hurtled towards a big defeat with their wickets falling at clockwork regularity. Their innings finally ended at 194 in 39.2 overs as India emerged victorious with a margin of 169 runs. The rustiness of the Sri Lankans was clearly visible in their loss and with 4 ODI games still remaining, they will have to do something better in the coming two weeks.