Riding on the back of a fine half-century from Mithali Raj and Ekta Bisht's three-for, India stormed into the 2016 ACC Women's Asia Cup T20 final with a crushing 52-run victory over Sri Lanka at the AIT Cricket Ground on Thursday (December 1).
Raj's rich vein of form continued as she slammed the ninth fifty of her Twenty20 International career to propel India to a challenging 121 for 4, after Harmanpreet Kaur elected to bat in their first afternoon game. Sri Lanka's innings was crippled by some tight bowling from Indian spinners. Bisht stood out, triggering a middle-order collapse and finishing with figures of eight for 3, as the islanders were restricted to 69 for 9 from their quota, thereby losing out on the finals berth.
India's batting, as has been the case in the tournament thus far, rallied around Raj's batting masterclass, with the 33-year-old hitting her second-best individual score of 62, laced with half a dozen boundaries. In the supporting roles were cameos from Smriti Mandhana (21 off 28) and later, Veda Krishnamurthy (21 off 23) that helped India to their best total of the tournament.
India's left-right opening pair combined for a 46-run opening stand that was broken only in the 10th over when Mandhana pulled Chamari Athapaththu straight into the hands of Sugandika Kumari at deep midwicket. But Raj did not let the Sri Lankan settle in and slammed a boundary on either side of the wicket in her next over. In fact, the former Sri Lankan skipper gave away the maximum 27 runs in her four-over spell.
Krishnamurthy, who walked in at one-down, joined the party soon after and dispatched Oshadi Ranasinghe over the long-on ropes for the only six of India's innings. Raj was dropped in her 40s off Sripali Weerakkody, but there was no looking back as she pressed the accelerator in the death overs to cap off India's dominating display.
An eventful 17th over saw Raj bringing up her ninth T20I fifty - and her first in the tournament - but also a controversial dismissal of Krishnamurthy. Raj brought up the milestone off the third delivery off Srpali before India's No. 3 bat was adjudged caught behind trying to slash. Visibly unhappy with the decision, Krishnamurthy froze for a moment before taking the long walk back to the pavilion, shaking her head in disappointment.
But with Raj well set, India quickly brought up the 100 in the next over off Athapaththu. India went on to add 24 in the final 18 deliveries to put up a 122-run challenge for Sri Lanka. Otherwise a destructive batter, Harmanpreet was happy to take singles and pass the strike on to her former captain who was going after just about everything.
In the search for quick runs in the final over, Harmanpreet mistimed a lofted shot that was eventually dropped in the deep but cost them Raj's wicket in the form of a run out, on the penultimate ball of the innings. The skipper too fell off the succeeding delivery that kept India to 121.
Sri Lanka's surrendered rather meekly in the do-or-die contest. Once the wicket procession started, disciplined bowling ensured they were suffocated for runs. The mounting asking rate added to the pressure and it became increasingly tougher for the Hasini Perera-led side to stage a comeback.
The first success came with the final ball of the fourth over when the in-form Athapaththu attempted to sweep Anuja Patil but was instead hit on the pads bang in front of the stumps. Fellow opener Perera, who had hit the tournament's first fifty the day before, perished three balls later. The Sri Lankan captain failed to clear Mandhana at mid-off, giving Jhulan Goswami her only wicket of the day.
Reeling at 25 for 2 at the end of powerplay, Sri Lanka were dealt a double blow when Bisht sent Prasadani Weerakkody (14) and Ranasinghe packing off back-to-back deliveries in her first over. Sripali fell in quick succession too as Sri Lanka slipped to 37 for 5 at the halfway mark, still 85 shy of the winning mark.
All-rounder Dilani Manodara (20) offered some resistance by stitching a useful stand worth 23 for the sixth wicket with Hansima Karunaratne. But Preeti Bose's (3 for 14) late strikes put India firmly in the driver's seat. Poonam Yadav, included in the side at the expense of Shikha Pandey, too opened her account with the wicket of Eshani Lokusuriyage as India celebrated their progress into the final with a big win.
Brief scores: India 121/4 in 20 overs (Mithali Raj 62, Veda Krishnamurthy 21, Smriti Mandhana 21; Sripali Weerakkody 1-18) beat Sri Lanka 69/9 in 20 overs (Dilani Manodara 20; Ekta Bisht 3-8, Preeti Bose 3-14) by 52 runs
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