RANCHI - Shikhar Dhawan thanked Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni for telling him to keep playing his natural game after the swashbuckling opener silenced his critics with his maiden T20 half century Friday. There had been growing calls for Dhawan to be axed ahead of the World Twenty20 that begins next month in India after he failed to reach 50 in his previous 12 matches in the shortest format.
But after a disappointing tour of Australia, the 30-year-old finally found form when he smashed a 25-ball 51 in Ranchi to help India demolish Sri Lanka by 69 runs in the second of three T20s. "I enjoyed batting over here and it's good that I got my first T20 fifty so I am very happy about that," Dhawan said after being named Man of the Match. "I like to play my natural game and I got a lot of support from the captain and the support staff. They told me to play the way I want to play and backed my game so that gives you a lot of confidence and I enjoy that confidence."
After India were put into bat on a flat pitch, Dhawan 's blistering innings enabled the hosts to post a challenging 196 for six, despite a late hat-trick from Thisara Perera. After losing two early wickets, Sri Lanka never looked like chasing down their target and they only managed to post 127 for nine in their 20 overs. The left-handed Dhawan unleashed an array of strokes to help the hosts return to winning ways after their shock loss in the first game of the three-match series.
Dhawan 's opening stand with Rohit Sharma provided a solid 75-run base for the hosts against an inexperienced Sri Lankan attack. Young medium-pacer Kasun Rajitha enjoyed a dream debut on Tuesday when he took three wickets but he was brought back down to earth in his second T20 international, conceding 45 runs in his wicketless four-over spell. Dushmantha Chameera picked up Dhawan 's wicket to put the brakes on India 's run-rate before Hardik Pandya picked up the pace again by smashing a 12-ball 27. Sri Lanka 's hopes were lifted when Perera took a hat-trick at the tail-end of the Indian innings, effectively preventing the hosts from passing the 200-run mark.
Perera sent Pandya, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh back to the pavilion in the 18th over to give T20 cricket its fourth hat-trick and a first by a Sri Lankan. Australia's Brett Lee and New Zealand's Jacob Oram and Tim Southee are the other three bowlers to pick a hat-trick in the shortest format. But Perera's heroics failed to inspire the visiting batsmen, who faltered against a disciplined Indian attack.
Spinner Ravichandran Ashwin struck with the very first legal delivery of the Sri Lankan innings to get veteran opener Tilllkaratne Dilshan stumped. Sharing the new ball with Ashwin, left-arm pacer Ashish Nehra also hit the deck hard to rattle the Lankan top-order with two more strikes and put the visitors on the back foot. Skipper Dinesh Chandimal and Chamara Kapugedara tried hard to get the visitors out of trouble with a 52-run fourth-wicket stand but Dhoni's persistence with spin paid off.
Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja snared Kapugedara and Chandimal with consecutive deliveries to foil any chance of an opposition chase while the asking rate steadily mounted. Dhoni's sharp work behind the stumps was the reason behind Chandimal's departure as India tightened the noose. The rest of the innings seemed like a mere formality with Ashwin and medium-pacer Jasprit Bumrah bagging two wickets apiece. Milinda Siriwardana made a valiant 28 not out only to be witness three ducks down the order as India relished a well-deserved win .
Sri Lankan skipper Chandamal backed his young charges to come back strong in the decider. "We need to regroup. On this kind of track, we needed to mix our yorkers and slower deliveries well," he said. "Hopefully our bowlers will learn quickly. We'll put our heart and soul into the next game." The two teams head to Visakhapatnam for the decider on Sunday.

Scoreboard

INDIA :
R Sharma c & b Chameera 43
S Dhawan c Chandimal b Chameera 51
A Rahane c Dilshan b Senanayake 25
S Raina c Chameera b Perera 30
H Pandya c Gunathilaka b Perera 27
MS Dhoni not out 9
Yuvraj Singh c Senanayake b Perera 0
R Jadeja not out 1
EXTRAS: (lb1, w9) 10
TOTAL: (6 wkts; 20 overs) 196
FOW: 1-75, 2-122, 3-127, 4-186, 5-186, 6-186
BOWLING: K Rajitha 4-0-45-0, T Perera 3-0-33-3, S Senanayake 4-0-40-1, D Chameera 4-0-38-2, S Prasanna 3-0-21-0, M Siriwardana 1-0-6-0, D Shanaka 1-0-12-0
SRI LANKA :
M Gunathilaka c Dhoni b Nehra 2
T Dilshan st Dhoni b Ashwin 0
S Prasanna c Yuvraj b Nehra 1
D Chandimal st Dhoni b Jadeja 31
K Kapugedera c Pandya b Jadeja 32
M Siriwardana not out 28
D Shanaka c Raina b Ashwin 27
T Perera c Rahane b Ashwin 0
S Senanayake lbw b Bumrah 0
D Chameera b Bumrah 0
K Rajitha not out 3
EXTRAS: (w3) 3
TOTAL: (9 wkts; 20 overs) 127
FOW: 1-2, 2-3, 3-16, 4-68, 5-68, 6-116, 7-117, 8-119, 9-119
BOWLING: R Ashwin 4-0-14-3, A Nehra 3-0-26-2, Yuvraj Singh 3-0-19-0, R Jadeja 4-0-24-2, S Raina 2-0-22-0, J Bumrah 3-0-17-2, H Pandya 1-0-5-0
TOSS: Sri Lanka
UMPIRES: A Chaudhary, V Kulkarni
TV UMPIRE: C Nandan
MATCH REFEREE: J Crowe (NZ)