SRI LANKA — “We’re playing for pride and we’re not the kind of team to lose 5-0,” Angelo Mathews had said at the toss.
Though the remainder of the top order did not live out those words on a spin-friendly track in Ranchi, Mathews took on the job himself.
His intelligently paced 138 not out off 114 balls was first the spine, then the muscle of Sri Lanka’s first competitive score, of 286 for 7, this series.
Other batsmen contributed in spurts — Lahiru Thirimanne the most notable among them, sticking by Mathews in Sri Lanka’s biggest partnership of the series, as he collected a second fifty on the trot himself.
Both times India batted first in the series, they had conquered the opposition by conserving wickets, then surging powerfully in the last 15 overs, and Mathews adopted that blueprint as he hit a long-awaited maiden ton.
Having arrived at the crease at 73 for 3, he was cautious at the outset, sinking 36 balls into his first 15 runs, and seeing out 41 deliveries before hitting his first boundary.
His 128-run stand with Thirimanne was measured work. Virat 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 men scored heavily through the leg side, mining the gaps through midwicket and fine leg most often, 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 dividends for the visitors though, when Mathews gathered pace at the death to help claim 114 from the last 10 overs.
Ambati Rayudu’s 41st over was when the hitting began. Mathews hit a four and two sixes in succession to kick the final push into gear and though Thirimanne soon fell hitting out, Mathews continued to target the spinners. An R Ashwin over went for 10, then Karn Sharma disappeared for 18.
Having been 53 off 79 balls at the end of the 40th over, Mathews was soon loping towards a 100. He has been nervous in the vicinity of three figures in the past, but he was quickly through the 90s in Ranchi, to claim his 100 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 saw 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.
Niroshan Dickwella debuted in place of opener Kusal Perera, but could not bring immediate relief for Sri Lanka’s woes at the top of the order.
He pushed early at a Dhawal Kulkarni slower ball, and was caught at midwicket for four — that dismissal capping off a series in which Sri Lanka’s opening stand has not stretched beyond the 9th over. T
illakaratne Dilshan flailed at the bowling early in the innings, seemingly piercing the infield through power of will, as he struck seven fours in his 24-ball 35.
But he was done in by another slower ball, just as he seemed to be approaching fluency. Stuart Binny sneaked one through bat and pad to rattle leg stump.
Dinesh Chandimal played a pained innings, scratching around for five off 30 balls, before an attempt to slog-sweep Akshar Patel went awry.
Mahela Jayawardene stayed positive throughout another top-order collapse, cutting, pulling and lofting the wayward balls to stay at around a run-a-ball, but he was not able to lift Sri Lanka out of the mire either.
One end of the Ranchi pitch appeared to take significantly more turn than the other, and when R Ashwin switched ends, he had one rip off one of the dustier areas to take the splice of Jayawardene’s bat.
Slip took a simple catch to leave Sri Lanka at 85 for 4 in the 19th over, when Mathews put his nose to the stone.
Kulkarni took two late wickets to finish with 3 for 57. Ashwin and Akshar shared two scalps apiece, but Karn, who had suffered most at Mathews’ hands, finished wicketless, and conceded 61 from his 10.