Sri Lanka limp out of tri-series
Sri Lanka beat themselves in their must-win game as India eased into the finals with an emphatic seven-wicket win in Hobart. In what was a pathetic batting display, Sri Lanka skid from a comfortable 1 for 72 to a perilous 7 for 93, blowing their chances on a flat deck. A composed fifty from Chamara Kapugedera avoided a debacle but couldn't take away the one-sided nature of the contest.
Chasing 180 was never going to be too much of a challenge for India, especially when Sachin Tendulkar started to cut loose. Gautam Gambhir added a polished fifty to what's been a fantastic series, leaving Yuvraj Singh to add the final touches on a comprehensive win which got India a bonus point they no longer need. Sri Lanka travel to Melbourne for their final league match but that will now be only of academic interest.
The conditions were overcast, and the bowling accurate but nothing could explain the batsmen pretending to be kamikaze artists. Praveen Kumar, a seamer relying on gentle swing, triggered the collapse before Ishant Sharma, a taller, pacier gunman, pierced the soft underbelly further. Kumar Sangakkara's poor shot selection opened up the flood gates and the rest seemed more intent to catch the next flight out of Hobart. On a flat pitch, they saw their chances of entering the final up in smoke.
The script could have easily changed, especially when Sanath Jayasuriya and Sangakkara were out in the middle. The duo had shrugged off the early dismissal of Dilruwan Perera, castled by a peach of a straightener from Ishant, by cashing in on a slightly wayward new-ball spell. Sangakkara, like he's done all series, laced cover-drives with ease while Jayasuriya, who's endured a struggle in Australia, crunched jabs through point to offer glimpses of his destructive best. The pitch appeared to have eased out; India, who picked five bowlers, seemed to have botched a great chance.
Everything changed when Kumar was introduced. Playing only his third ODI, he showed why he's so highly rated in the domestic circuit. Sangakkara paid the price for taking Kumar too lightly: he walked down the track and poked recklessly, only to see Mahendra Singh Dhoni pull off a fine catch diving to his left. Sangakkara telegraphed his intentions too early and couldn't make allowance for Kumar's subtle movement away from him.
Kumar was ecstatic after his first international wicket but he was to nab two more in quick time. Mahela Jayawardene was undone by a sharp catch by Rohit Sharma at point - reacting quickly to a fierce cut he pulled off a superb low catch - before Chamara Silva wafted at one that shaped away to watch Dhoni pull off another fine take. It was Dhoni's 100th catch in ODIs. So smooth was the trajectory on that ball that it might have inscribed a perfect parabola, snicking the outside edge on its way through.
Jayasuriya, watching all the mayhem from the other end, thought it was best to break the shackles. Faced with a short ball from Irfan Pathan he attempted a high-risk pull, kicking the ground as the ball ballooned into Dhoni's gloves. Ishant returned to remove Tillakaratne Dilshan, with a peach that swung into his pads, before tempting Chaminda Vaas with an indiscreet pull. On a good batting pitch, with the bowlers doing nothing extraordinary, Sri Lanka were teetering on the brink.
Kapugedera, though, was like a sane voice in a mad melee. Along with Lasith Malinga, he endured 12.2 overs without a boundary before he began to gradually open out. He showed he had all the shots - a smooth cover drive, a crackling straight drive, and an innovative pick-up shot in front of square.
It was his highest ODI score but only delayed the inevitable. The sun was out by the time India's openers walked in and the match was headed in only one direction. Shrugging off his failures in the CB Series so far, Tendulkar set the Bellerive alight with a dominant half-century. Cutting loose against an uninspired bowling attack, he provided Australia with an ominous signal ahead of the final.
Reading Muttiah Muralitharan's doosras from the hand, he waltzed down the track to loft over the covers. Ishara Amarasinghe's dibbly-dobblies were never going to be a threat in these conditions and he was greeted with three successive fours in his first over: flicked delectably over square, cut savagely through point and spanked in the same direction.
Gambhir enhanced his ever-burgeoning reputation with an assured knock. He read Malinga's slower ones and didn't spare his quicker ones too, especially when they were wide and within his striking zone. He handled Murali with ease, picking him off for singles, and ensured he was out there when the winning runs were struck. Sri Lanka won't want to remember much from the CB Series but the sight of Gambhir cutting them to ribbons may be a tough one to erase.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo