The embattled wicketkeeper batsman scored an unbeaten 64 while Kuldeep Yadav added spin to the tale as India beat Sri Lanka
KL Rahul showed that he is up for the fight amid scrutiny about his place in the team, while Kuldeep Yadav added spin to the tale as India edged past Sri Lanka by four wickets in the second ODI on January 12.
The result at Eden Gardens also means India sealed the three-match ODI series with a match to spare.
Electing to bat, Sri Lanka did not have the best start with Mohammad Siraj removing opener Avishka Fernando.
The 73-run second-wicket stand between debutant opener Nuwanidu Fernando and wicketkeeper Kushal Mendis steadied the innings and ignited hope for the visitors.
But once Fernando (50, 63b, 6×4) got run out, following an inspired Indian fielding display, it all went downhill for the Lankans.
Indian bowlers, who have yet to hit the consistency button in recent times, took charge as Sri Lanka once again struggled to get their act together.
Kushal Mendis, who hit a run-a-ball 34, fell to a wrong-un as the Lankans struggled with their self-inflicted wounds more than their more fancied rivals.
Axar Patel, who looked ready to pose a serious challenge to his injured teammate Ravindra Jadeja, once again kept things relatively quiet from his end.
Patel did pick the wicket of Dhananjaya de Silva, for a golden duck, but it was the pressure he created that paid dividends.
Yadav, the chinaman who is rediscovering the magic he once created, then triggered the collapse as he picked the wickets of Mendis, Charith Asalanka and skipper Dasun Shanaka.
Mohammad Siraj looked at his best with the new ball, and gave the breakthrough with the wicket of Avishka Fernando, before adding wickets of Dunith Wellalage, who looked to rescue the innings, and Lahiru Kumara.
Umran Malik, on the other hand, ensured that the Lankan tail didn’t wag as he picked up the wickets of Wanindu Hasaranga de Silva and Chamika Karunaratne.
Sri Lanka’s 215 was never going to be enough for them to defend, especially against the home team, and that too in their own den.
Shubham Gill showed intent while the two seasoned campaigners – skipper Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli – took a day off as India stuttered in their chase.
It was the 75-run fifth wicket stand between Hardik Pandya (28, 33b, 5×4) and KL Rahul that somewhat soothed the flailed nerves.
Perhaps what was impressive about the duo was that they managed to cage their natural attacking style of play and preferred to deal with ones and twos. What was important was that they played out the Lankan spinners – who could have put India on the mat.
Pandya could not finish it – so did Axar Patel – but they did ensure that India reached the doors with Rahul dropping anchor and holding on to one end, realising perfectly that he needed to stay, everything else was immaterial.
While Rahul was there to see through any eventuality, perhaps it was apt that player of the match and left-arm spinner Kuldeep Yadav shot the winning boundary with 40 balls remaining.
BRIEF SCORE: Sri Lanka 215 in 39.4 overs (Nuwanido Fernando 50, Kushal Mendia 34, Dunith Wellalage 32; Kuldeep Yadav 3/51, Mohammed Siraj 3/30) lost to India 219/6 in 43.2 overs (KL Rahul 64, Hardik Pandya 36, Shreyas Iyer 28; Chamika Karunaratne 2/51, Lahiru Kumara 2/64)