Sri Lankan Captain Dasun Shanaka taps Axar Patel after taking his wicket during the 2nd T20I between India and Sri Lanka at the MCA Stadium in Pune on January 5, 2023. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI
In search of a huge target, when India lost five wickets in the first half of the chase, especially in the new venues built outside the main city, the stands began to empty, hoping to beat the traffic more than hope for a miracle on earth.
But on Thursday night, none of the 30,460 spectators moved from their seats at the Maharashta Cricket Association stadium, even as India were in the doldrums at 57 for five in the 10th over, chasing an improbable score of 207. The reason: Suryakumar Yadav is at the crease.
Suryakumar, India’s brightest spot in the shortest format in 2022, has done his part. But it was Axar Patel who returned to the team in the second T20I against Sri Lanka. Even though Surykumar departed after a trademark fifty, Axar found an unlikely ally in Shivam Mavi.
He may not have sealed the series for India but Axar overshadowed Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka’s onslaught that helped Sri Lanka post the highest total in a T20I at the stadium. Shanaka’s sensational knock — registering Sri Lanka’s fastest T20I fifty — was a fitting end to Sri Lanka’s innings, after the solid foundation laid by opener Kusal Mendis and Charith Asalanka in the middle overs.
In the end, the 68 runs added by Shanaka and Chamika Karunaratne in the last four overs — including seven no-balls and four wides by India — proved to be the deciding factor as Sri Lanka won by 16 runs, thus set up a tease. series-decider in Rajkot on Saturday.
Axar, however, was sensational with his pick-up shots. The all-rounder is phenomenal against pace and spin. His mockery of the spin duo of Wanindu Hasaranga and Maheesh Theekshana was amazing. He reads the turn and flight with precision, literally hitting the ball out of the park whenever he wants.
That he overshadowed Suryakumar in their 91-run association with just 40 balls in itself was a testament to his form on the night. When the partnership looked under threat, Suryakumar spoke to left-arm pacer Dilshan Madushanka.
Thanks to Mavi hitting Madushanka for 16 runs off three balls, the equation was brought to 33 runs in the last two overs. But Kasun Rajitha – who opened the floodgates early – conceded 12 runs in the penultimate over.
And Shanaka bowled a perfect last over to ensure Axar didn’t completely steal the limelight from him.