Seamers set up India's thumping title win
India's under-fire seam attack came good when it mattered, setting up fourth win in seven tournament finals for MS Dhoni's side, a statistic that makes a mockery of India's abysmal record in finals. The conditions did support them as they were bowling under the lights in Dambulla, but it was a huge improvement from two nights ago: all three of Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra bowled tight lines, all three got movement both ways, extra bounce, and consequently wickets.
Sri Lanka could have restricted India to about 30 fewer than the 268 had they fielded as well as they usually do and had they attacked a bit more. India could have got about 30 more had Dinesh Karthik, the best of the batsmen on the day, and Dhoni not gifted wickets to Thilina Kandamby's erroneous part-time legbreaks. All that, however, ceased to matter by the time India's three medium-pacers were done with their first spells, the collated figures of which read 19-2-61-5.
Nehra proved to be the deadliest of three, repeatedly making the ball land on the seam, also regaining his special ability of getting swing with back-of-a-length deliveries. Two of his four wickets were Sri Lanka's best batsmen, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. The third was one of the smarter ones, Angelo Mathews.
The man who is used to make impact, though, was removed by Praveen in the first over. Tillakaratne Dilshan took one sighter, and went after the next. It was a bouncer wide outside off stump, and the pull went only as far as mid-on. Zaheer and Praveen then worked hard for the next wicket, troubling the two left-hand batsmen, Sangakkara and Upul Tharanga, with consistent movement.
The wicket eventually came through a forgettable choice from Tharanga. Earlier in the same over Zaheer had hit Sangakkara twice in the thigh area with sharp inward movement. Still Tharanga chose to leave one alone without even covering the stumps. The top of off was hit.
Jayawardene and Sangakkara would have been relieved to see Zaheer (5-1-17-1) off, but it was short-lived. With his second ball, Nehra nearly got Jayawardene lbw, the ball swinging in. In his second over, he got extra bounce and away movement, getting that edge. At 49 for 3 in the 14th over, Sri Lanka were under extreme pressure. Which could perhaps explain Mathews' loose shot two balls later, edging a short and wide delivery.
Nehra's swing continued and Sangakkara tried to do something with the only delivery that looked too short. It bounced too high and Sangakkara was gone in the 16th over, which made it three wickets for eight runs since Nehra's introduction. Praveen played his part from the other end, bowling nine overs of steady away swing from left-hand batsmen for 29 runs.
Nehra produced perhaps his best deliveries for Chamara Kapugedera, getting vicious swing from back of a length, hitting him repeatedly in the thigh-rib region. In his fifth over, Nehra provided some respite, giving Kandamby both width and the angle down the leg side.
It was too late and too little for Kandamby, two of whose best innings have come in losing causes from desperate positions against India. That job of raising hope was left to Kapugedera and Nuwan Kulasekara, who added 35 in the batting Powerplay taken in the 36th over. It brought the defeat margin down to two figures, but couldn't mask the one-sided nature of the contest.
The first half of the match was more even, and it went this way and that. After Gautam Gambhir wasted a decent start and two lives behind the wicket with a lazy run-out, Karthik wrested the initiative through three punched boundaries in the eight over, bowled by Farveez Maharoof.
Maharoof was to endure an ordinary day, being slow in the outfield, dropping a half chance from Karthik, and failing with the bat too. Along with Maharoof, Kandamby's tardiness in the outfield hurt Sri Lanka bad. His drop of Gambhir may not have hurt them hugely, but his reluctance to dive and slowness in acting did.
Kandamby made up though, with a nice juicy full toss and a long hop wide outside off. The first one somehow seduced Karthik into finding deep square leg's lap, and the second got Dhoni to hit straight to point. That brought India down to 167 for 4 in the 33rd over, and Sri Lanka were one wicket away from the long Indian tail.
Sangakkara, though, surprisingly chose his lucky part-timers over peppering Suresh Raina and Rohit with bouncers. When Lasith Malinga was eventually brought back in the 39th over, India were nearing 200. In his second over, Malinga showed why he should have been bowling as soon as Raina came out. Five awkwardly played short balls were followed by a deadly yorker that caught him on the crease.
Having seen a lower-order collapse lose them the previous match, India were circumspect, Kulasekara was accurate, and only 55 came in the last 10 overs. In the final equation, though, that didn't matter.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo