Wicketkeeper-batter KL Rahul stepped up when it mattered the most to pull India out of a tricky stage by slamming his 12th ODI fifty and carry them to a hard-fought four-wicket victory over Sri Lanka in the second ODI at Eden Gardens, here on Thursday.
After Kuldeep Yadav and Mohammed Siraj picked three wickets each to bundle out Sri Lanka for 215, the visitors' bowlers reduced India to 86/4. But Rahul kept his calm and batted sensibly under pressure to make an unbeaten 64 off 103 balls, and struck a crucial 75-run partnership with Hardik Pandya to take India over the line with 40 balls to spare, giving the hosts' a series win.
Chasing 216, Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill smacked six boundaries in the first four overs. But Rohit fell in the fifth over to Chamika Karunaratne, giving a regulation catch to the keeper while looking to punch it through covers without any footwork.
Gill smacked Lahiru Kumara for back-to-back fours in the next over. But the pacer had the last laugh as Gill picked out short midwicket through a short-arm pull. Kumara inflicted more damage by getting a length ball to come in sharply and Virat Kohli, stuck in the crease, got an inside edge to the stumps, as India's top three fell in power-play.
Shreyas Iyer pulled with conviction twice off Karunaratne for a brace of fours and had some luck by getting boundaries off leading edges. His stay ended when he played the wrong line off Kumara and was rapped lbw. He took a review, but replays showed ball clipping leg-stump.
Rahul joined forces with Hardik to get India's chase back on track. The duo took their time to settle down in order and weather the early storm. After India's 100 was achieved, the duo began to punish loose deliveries from the Sri Lankan bowlers.
When Rajitha bowled too full and sprayed down leg, Hardik was quick in driving through mid-off and flicking through backward square leg for boundaries. When Hasaranga overpitched, Rahul leant forward to drive through cover for four. In the next over, Kumara overpitched and Rahul took full advantage by lofting high over mid-off for another four.
As the ball started to lose the shine and pitch began to be less spicy, India were cruising. Hardik brought out a front foot drive against Dhananjaya de Silva, the sixth bowling option and then flicked off Karunaratne for another four. But in an attempt to drive again off Karunaratne, Hardik was stuck at crease and nicked behind to keeper.
Axar Patel began well with an uppish drive through vacant extra cover gap off Karunaratne for a boundary which was called no-ball. He made full use of the free hit by fiercely pulling over deep mid-wicket and putting the pressure back on Sri Lanka.
His attempt to take the aerial route again backfired when his lofted extra drive was caught by long-off against de Silva. After Rahul got his fifty in 93 balls on a no-ball, Kuldeep Yadav took India closer to victory with a fierce cut through backward point for a boundary.
Rahul applied finishing touches to the chase with flicks and inside edges fetching him boundaries off Rajitha, followed by a top-edge on pull flying over keeper's head to make it three fours in an over. Kuldeep finished off the chase with a four slapped through mid-off to give India series win.
Brief Scores: Sri Lanka 215 all out in 39.4 overs (Nuwanidu Fernando 50, Kusal Mendis 34, Mohammed Siraj 3/30, Kuldeep Yadav 3/51) lost to India 219/6 in 43.2 overs (KL Rahul 64 not out, Hardik Pandya 36; Chamika Karunaratne 2/51, Lahiru Kumara 2/64) by four wickets