Kusal Mendis led the way for Sri Lanka with a sparkling 55 off 38 deliveries. © AFP

Kusal Mendis led the way for Sri Lanka with a sparkling 55 off 38 deliveries. © AFP

Having stacked up an amazing run across formats in Bangladesh in January-February and started the Nidahas Trophy with a first win in eight Twenty20 Internationals against India, Sri Lanka lapsed back into their poor form of 2017 when they sank to their second loss in the three-nation tournament in Colombo on Monday (March 12)

Sri Lanka’s 152 for 9 in a match reduced to 19 overs a side on an excellent batting strip at the R Premadasa Stadium was never going to be enough. India hunted that total down with reasonable ease, winning by six wickets with nine deliveries to spare to consign the hosts to a second successive defeat after Bangladesh had scaled down 214 two nights previously in a record chase.

Thisara Perera was standing in as captain for the suspended Dinesh Chandimal, and Sri Lanka fortified the bowling by bringing in Suranga Lakmal and going one batsman light. “In the previous two matches, we didn’t need the batsman coming in at No. 7 or 8,” the interim skipper reasoned. “So we thought the batsmen we had was enough. But today, we couldn’t bat well – including myself. I have to bear the blame as well. I batted well at the start and could have continued that. But what I tried to do was to hit a boundary. I think we could have batted better around Kusal Mendis.”

On being put in by Rohit Sharma, Mendis led the way for Sri Lanka with a sparkling 55 off 38 deliveries, but when he was the fifth batsman dismissed at 118 in the 14th over, the wheels came off dramatically. “Kusal Mendis batted really well,” admitted Perera, “but sad to say this is not a good score to defend on this wicket. It’s a really, really good wicket to bat. We were 25-30 runs behind. That’s the main reason for our loss. Kusal Mendis batted really well. Others didn’t execute their plans.”

Perera conceded that the middle-order failure was the reason for the defeat in this game, though he denied that Sri Lanka had tried to overreach after seeing Bangladesh chase down 214 and had hence ended up well short. “The past is the past. We can’t think about that,” he insisted. “What we had to do was think about the next match. We didn’t think much about that (Bangladesh) match.

“Actually if we look at our first match (against India), we did pretty well. Myself and Dasun (Shanaka) finished the match. Other than in the last few matches, our batting line-up has been very good. The main reason for the loss is we couldn’t execute our batting plans. That was the biggest reason for the defeat. We lost two or three wickets in quick succession. We should have stuck around during that period, and if we did that, we could have got around 180 easily. The bowlers need at least 175 to defend on this pitch. We didn’t bat well enough.”

Explaining the rationale behind continuing to bench the in-form Dhananjaya de Silva, Perera stuck to the under-utilised batsman theme. “The No. 7 and 8 batsmen didn’t get to bat in previous games, so we were thinking about that. With this rain, we also definitely need another main bowler. Our game didn’t go to plan – that’s the main reason we lost. If we had scored 175 or 180, we would have been more competitive. If it’s raining, we definitely need an extra bowler. In the previous matches, we did really well; our batting was great. It’s in this match only that we collapsed. We had chased 173 and then hit 214 (in the first two games of this tournament), so our batting is really good. We need to fix the little issues and think about the coming matches.”

One of the reasons for Sri Lanka’s sub-par total was Shardul Thakur, the Mumbai paceman who finished with T20I best figures of 4 for 27. “The most important thing is that he bowls a really good knuckle ball. That’s the main reason for his success. I also got out to the knuckle ball. His knuckle ball, I have seen it before, but playing it is another thing — he took one or two wickets with the knuckle ball.”

Sri Lanka came out with a definite plan to attack the Indians with short balls through Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep and Dushmantha Chameera. “Yes, it was a plan to bowl short, but we couldn’t pull it off well with the wet balls,” Perera pointed out. “The short deliveries were not on target. We can’t use it as an excuse. We have to take the positives and move on.

“(Manish) Pandey batted really well. He didn’t put too much pressure on himself. That’s the main reason for our loss – he did really well during the middle period and so did Dinesh Karthik.”

Kusal Mendis left the field late in India’s chase with a potential groin injury while making a save on the boundary line. “I don’t know yet, the physios are looking at him,” said Perera. “He had some ice on his leg, but I wasn’t able to spend long in the dressing room. I don’t think it’s a big thing.”

Sri Lanka will be hoping that is the case. Mendis has made 123 runs in three matches so far and provided the early impetus. Sri Lanka’s next game is against Bangladesh on March 16, and particularly with Chandimal still missing, they will be desperate to have Mendis’s services for what seems certain to be a must-win game for both teams.