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February 19, 2008
Two months into his Australian holiday, Yuvraj Singh finally showed up for work with a blistering 76 that set up India's chase before Mahendra Singh Dhoni survived a tense finish to guide them to a two-wicket win. The result was particularly disappointing for Kumar Sangakkara, who spent nearly the entire match on the field - much of it batting in 38-degree heat - and posted a gutsy and exhausting 128 as Sri Lanka set India 239 for victory.
Yuvraj departed with 81 still required and five wickets in hand but the captain Dhoni fought off leg problems, a sore finger and a swallowed fly to see them home. There were some late jitters as Irfan Pathan threw his wicket away, Praveen Kumar was caught hooking and Harbhajan Singh was trapped by Lasith Malinga's inswinging yorker, but Sri Lanka had left their final run too late.
Dhoni squirted the winning two through the off side with only five balls to spare after the mini-collapse of 3 for 20 caused some nervous moments. But Dhoni, who earlier this tour berated his batsmen for forgetting their roles, judged his innings perfectly and took no risks as he ran all 50 of his runs with no boundaries.
It was an impressive result for India, who had crashed to 3 for 35 after their chase began with a searing, near-perfect 144kph outswinger from Malinga that clipped the top of Sachin Tendulkar's off stump. But Yuvraj turned things around and he was so fluent it was hard to believe he was the same man who started his Australian trip with a dissent charge in the Boxing Day Test and suffered a downhill slide after that. He struck ten fours and a massive six over midwicket, and there was no safe place to bowl to him.
A couple of superbly-timed cover-driven boundaries were accompanied by some classy whips through the leg side and a cracking lofted drive over mid-off when Farveez Maharoof overpitched. Not even a change of bats slowed his progress; the first ball with his new weapon was square-cut ferociously for four.
But as incongruous as this innings was in the context of Yuvraj's tour, his dismissal was just as unexpected given the batting masterclass he was delivering. Chaminda Vaas had only just replaced Maharoof, who was leaking runs, when he angled in a yorker that crashed into the stumps and nobody looked more surprised than Yuvraj. However, he made more runs in one innings than in all his Test and ODI efforts of the past two months combined and despite the late wobbles, India completed the triumph.
Sangakkara was, not surprisingly, disappointed following his heroics. Unlike Yuvraj, Sangakkara has hinted throughout the CB Series that something special was coming. He came in three balls into Sri Lanka's innings and was out from the final ball of the 49th over, by which time his body seemed about ready to pack it in.
During the last few overs, following most runs down the pitch he was crouching to catch his breath, knowing he had 50 overs of wicketkeeping ahead of him. His fatigue was understandable; until a late blitz brought Sri Lanka 61 in the final eight overs Sangakkara had pushed within reach of his century with only five boundaries, which meant an awful lot of running.
He was so intent on building a solid platform that when he swept a four off Harbhajan Singh in the 36th over it was his first boundary in 21 overs. Eventually he became more aggressive and lifted his run-rate to finish with 12 fours from his 155 deliveries as he posted his second-highest ODI score - his top three have all come against India.
Not only was Sangakkara the man who rebuilt Sri Lanka's innings, he was also the person India had to thank for two important wickets. Playing straight is generally regarded as a sound batting policy but Sangakkara must have been tempted to switch to cross-batted slogs after his straight-drives caused the run-outs of Mahela Jayawardene and Sanath Jayasuriya.
Jayawardene had combined with Sangakkara for a 153-run partnership and a race to triple-figures was on the cards when a drive clipped the fingers of Kumar and ricocheted onto the stumps, finding Jayawardene short on 71. The previous wicket had fallen the same way - Sangakkara's straight shot glanced off Munaf Patel's hand and a half-asleep Jayasuriya was dawdling out of his crease.
Fortunately for Sri Lanka, there were 35 overs between those second and third wickets as India failed to capitalise on their strong start after they had Sri Lanka at 2 for 6 in the third over. Following Sangakkara's effort - he was named Man of the Match - it seemed Sri Lanka's shaky start had not hurt them, but their slow consolidation ensured India's target was thoroughly gettable on an Adelaide pitch that did not worry the batsmen and Dhoni's men moved one step closer to the CB Series finals.