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(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – India came back strongly to stay in contention for a place in the final of the Hero Nidahas trophy T20 tri-series when they defeated Sri Lanka by six wickets in the return match played at the R Premadasa Stadium yesterday.

Beaten in the first match by five wickets India played better cricket than Sri Lanka to come up with a win where the credit should go to their bowling unit for keeping Sri Lanka pinned down to a score of 152-9 in a contest reduced to 19 overs a side after persistent rain had delayed the start by 80 minutes.

Sri Lanka’s middle and lower order batting was undone by Mumbai Indians 26-year-old right-arm medium-pacer Shardul Thakur who took a career best four wickets for 27 runs to carry away the Man of the Match award. Only the other day in the first game against Sri Lanka, Thakur was taken to the cleaners for 27 runs in an over by Kusal Perera – what a great leveller this game of cricket is.

After a stutter when they lost four wickets 85 runs India were seen home and dry in the 18th over by their fifth wicket pair Manish Pandey and Dinesh Karthik who steered them to victory with an unbroken partnership of 68 off 46 balls for the fifth wicket.

Pandey finished on 42 not out scored off 31 balls with one six and three fours and Karthik had five fours in his unbeaten 39 that came off 25 balls.

Sri Lanka playing an additional bowler vice-captain Suranga Lakmal for suspended skipper Dinesh Chandimal just did not have enough firepower in their line-up going with only four specialist batters. Their total was always going to be insufficient to test the Indian batting that had the experience of virtually all the players carrying the experience of playing in the IPL.

India knew exactly how to get about overhauling the not too imposing target picking the singles and twos and hitting the odd boundary that carried them towards their target without taking any undue risks.

Sri Lanka’s only bright spark was the magnificent knock of 55 off 38 balls by Kusal Mendis – his fourth fifty in five innings that comprised three sixes and three fours.

Mendis and Upul Tharanga (22) carried Sri Lanka to a strong position of 96-2 figuring in a third wicket partnership of 62 off 46 balls before the Indian spinners and Thakur came into play.

After spinner Washington Sundar had removed Tharanga for 22, the rest of the innings fell apart with hardly any worthwhile contribution coming from the rest of the batters as Sri Lanka lost six wickets for 38 runs in the final seven overs. In the defeat against Bangladesh it was the Lankan bowlers who were badly exposed on a flat track and yesterday it was their batting that failed to put up a total that would have challenged India’s batting.

The defeat was Sri Lanka’s second in successive matches having lost to Bangladesh in the first leg on Saturday and it puts them under pressure to win their return match against Bangladesh on Friday if they are to qualify for the final.

India play Bangladesh on Wednesday in their final round robin match and will qualify for the final if they win, which would leave the winners of the last round robin match between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to decide on the other finalist.

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