Suryakumar Yadav and Axar Patel struck blistering fifties in a stunning 91-run stand, albeit in a losing cause as Sri Lanka tightened the screws in the nick of time to beat India by 16 runs in the second T20I and level the three-match series 1-1 at Pune.
Skipper Dasun Shanaka made a rear-guard unbeaten 56 off 22 balls, while wicket-keeper Kusal Mendis hit a 31-ball 52 to power Sri Lanka to an imposing 206 for 6.
India had a nightmarish start to their chase slumping to 57 for 5 before Axar (65 off 31) and Surya (51 off 36) raised hopes of an improbable win with a scintillating sixth-wicket stand.
The task became tough once Surya departed in the 16th over, but Axar and Shivam Mavi (26 off 15) shared quick 41 runs to bring down the equation to 21 off the last over.
But Axar’s dismissal in the third ball of the final over was the last nail in the coffin for India.
Chasing the total, India lost openers Ishan Kishan and Shubman Gill in the second over to Kasun Rajitha.
If that was not enough debutant Rahul Tripathi sneaked one to Kusal Mendis off Dilshan Madhushanaka in the next over before skipper Hardik Pandya departed an over later as India slumped to 34 for 4 in 4.4 overs.
Surya and Deepak Hooda tried to stabilise the innings with a hard-fought 23-run partnership but with the asking rate creeping up, the latter departed in search of a big shot, caught by Dhananjaya de Silva off Hasarnaga de Silva as India lost half of their side for 57. Surya and Axar tried to up the ante with a sensational 91-run sixth-wicket partnership off just 40 balls to keep India afloat after a forgettable start.
Axar was particularly severe on off-spinner Maheesh Theekshana, clobbering the bowler for a four and six over long-on in the 13th over.
It was not just Theekshana, Hasaranga de Silva too had to bear the brunt of Axar’s aggression as the left-hander smacked the bowler for a hat-trick of sixes in the 14th over.
Axar brought up his maiden fifty off just 20 balls with a six of Karunaratne over long-off. Surya followed suit, registering another fine fifty with a six off over square-leg off Madhushanaka.
The duo raised hopes of a famous victory but it was not to be as the visitors pulled the strings just in time to level the series.
Earlier, it was a disastrous performance from the Indian bowlers after electing to field as the Lankan batters went hammer and tongs from the onset. Barring Axar (2/24 from his 4 overs), all other Indian bowlers went for runs.
Even though speedster Umar Malik (3/48) picked up three wickets, he too was taken to the cleaners, while last match’s hero Mavi (0/53) looked a pale shadow of himself.
Arshdeep Singh conceded 19 runs of the second over, which included two back-to-back no balls that yielded 17 runs.
Hardik too went for 11 runs from his second over as Mendis top-edged one over deep third man.
Mavi was also taken to the cleaners by Mendis in his opening over, which yielded 15 runs.
Spin duo of Axar and Yuzvendra Chahal (1/30) gave respite for two overs before Pathum Nisanka (33) struck a four and then a mammoth six over deep midwicket. India’s first breakthrough came in the ninth over when Chahal had Mendis LBW after Hardik went for a successful review.
Sri Lanka suffered their second blow in the first delivery of the next over when Malik beat Bhanuka Rajapaksa by pace to clean his stumps.
Despite losing two wickets, Sri Lanka reached a healthy score of 89 at the half-way mark.
But Axar tasted success soon when he dismissed Nissanka, caught by Tripathy. He snared his second victim of the day in his next over when Dhananjaya de Silva was caught by Hooda at long on.
Charith Asalanka (37) looked in ominous mood as he dispatched Chahal over deep midwicket in consecutive deliveries.
Aslanka then pulled a Malik short delivery for another six but three balls later the pacer had the last laugh as he had the batter caught by Gill with a similar delivery in his next over.
Malik knocked off the timbers off Wanindu Hasaranga with a pacy delivery a ball later to stand in the chance of a hat-trick.
But it was not to be Malik’s day as Sri Lanka skipper Shanaka muscled the bowler over his head for a one bounce four.