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ARDIFF: India passed their first test of genuine English conditions on an overcast Thursday evening as they seamed out Sri Lanka by eight wickets to enter their third Champions Trophy final.
After restricting Lanka to 181/8 through a combination of astute swing and spin, India romped home with 15 overs to spare as Shikhar Dhawan continued his impressive run with 68 and Virat Kohli hastened the inevitable with a blistering unbeaten 58.
Dhawan was reprieved by captain Angelo Mathews at slip when he had scored 18 - a costly miss - and he went on to smash his second half-century of the tournament, to go with the two centuries he plundered in the first couple of matches.
Kohli then reeled in victory in a great hurry, peppering his fifty with disdainful boundaries against Sri Lanka's trump card Lasith Malinga and a towering six off leggie Jeevan Mendis, the last 50 runs of the chase coming in just five overs.
India will face hosts England in Sunday’s final – arguably the two best sides over the last fortnight meeting for the title – with an unblemished record of four wins in as many matches.
Sri Lanka’s paltry total was an outcome of an overall good bowling show in conditions fostering movement in the air. Man of the match Ishant Sharma and off-spinner R. Ashwin picked up three wickets each, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja exercised marked control and economy.
A wet outfield delayed the start by some thirty minutes with India assured of making the final in case of a wash-out, on account of having topped their league group. As it happened, they took the honorable path into the title clash.
Movement away from the left-hander spelled early doom after Dhoni elected to field. And such was seam's dominance that the captain himself forsook the big gloves to have a bowl, as Dinesh Karthik did duty behind the stumps.
Bhuvneshwar drew first blood by snaring Kusal Perera (4) on the outside edge. Ishant then aimed one across Lahiru Thirimane (7) for Raina's second catch at second slip. The lanky fast bowler followed it up anther slanter to Kumar Sangakkara (17), who looked utterly displeased at being lured into what became Raina's third catch.
Sri Lanka's 41/3 after 18 was rendered worse as it came after Tillakaratne Dilshan's fifth-over retirement. Mahela Jayawardene (38) and Angelo Mathews (51) made a slow progress to normalcy, the captain coloring play with a straight six off Ishant's good length ball.
The introduction of Jadeja and - would you believe it! - Dhoni's leg cutters eased the pressure somewhat. Dhoni appeared to have struck second ball as he trapped Jayawardene on the backfoot.
But the indignant Sri Lankan was acquitted on the review, which revealed a thick inside edge on to the pad. Mathews too survived after a successful review when replays indicated that Jadeja's delivery would have sizzled over the stumps.
No sooner did Sri Lanka opt for the Batting Powerplay that the 78-run union was severed. Jadeja castled Jayawardene early into the restricted phase as just 12 came from the crucial five overs.
R. Ashwin was now in his groove, a prolonged pause heralding each delivery, and in conjunction with the newly-mustachioed left-arm spinner Jadeja, allowed no space for stroke play.
Mathews reached fifty and almost on cue perished to the carrom ball with about four overs remaining, Sri Lanka on 158 and going at barely over three per over.
Dilshan hobbled out after Ashwin bowled Nuwan Kulasekara around his legs and saw the Chennai off-spinner add a third when he had Jeevan Mendis stumped, himself remaining unbeaten on 18.
India suffered the first jolt when Rohit, until then the epitome of caution, charged Mathews and was bowled for 33 in the 17th over, ending the 77-run opening partnership between him and Dhawan.
The openers had lived dangerously. Rohit edged Kulasekara to the third man fence and survived a huge ‘lbw’ appeal, thanks to an inside edge. Dhawan was all over Malinga before before upper-cutting him magnificently for six.
The dangerous left-hander was dropped on 18 at slip by Mathews off Nuwan Kulasekara. In the next over, Rohit’s edge off Perera fell just short of first slip, as India reached exactly 40 after the mandatory Powerplay.
Dhawan was finally out when he failed to read Mendis' googly, with India needing 41 to win in 18 overs. Kohli, whose mastery of Malinga was apparent yet again, switched gears and guided India to victory with 90 balls to spare. Malinga went for a wicket-less 54 off his eight overs.
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