Dilshan and Arnold take Sri Lanka home
With the series already sealed, India opted to rest three of the regulars - Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh and Irfan Pathan - and while the move didn't hamper the Indians when they were batting, in the field, they missed the experience of Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh. India were still in the hunt, though, till Dilshan stamped his authority with an emphatic unbeaten 81 off just 67 balls. With Arnold (49 not out) offering splendid support, a tough run-chase ultimately turned into a facile win.
In the last three matches here, teams have scored more than 300 five times, and teams chasing have twice successfully chased more than 300. Given that backdrop, and considering the fact that the dew late in the evening was always likely to hamper the team fielding second, a target of 286 looked slightly short of par for course. However, despite fielding an inexperienced bowling attack - RP Singh and Murali Kartik were the replacements for Pathan and Harbhajan - the Indians made a spirited fist of it at the start, taking three early wickets.
Mahela Jayawardene and Marvan Atapattu then started the recovery process after Sri Lanka had slumped to 73 for 3, adding 70 in just 11.1 overs with some common-sense cricket. The Indians weren't done, though. Fielding with tremendous alacrity, they hit the stumps regularly, and after some near-misses, were finally rewarded with Jayawardene's wicket. With Atapattu having been dismissed a little earlier, India suddenly had the opportunity to bowl at two new batsmen, and with the asking more than six-and-a-half, the Sri Lankans were up against it again.
Dilshan and Arnold set about the task with calm assurance. They started off by collecting the ones and twos, occasionally putting the bad balls away. Murali Kartik bowled a fairly effective outside-leg line from round the wicket, but a few tight overs didn't disturb either batsman. On the other hand, Virender Sehwag, the stand-in captain in the absence of Dravid - who had an attack of cramps during batting and didn't take the field - was forced to bring back his seam bowlers in search of wickets, and on an excellent batting pitch, the extra pace offered the batsmen the perfect opportunity to up the tempo.
The asking-rate, which had climbed to seven per over after 40, rapidly decreased as the free-stroking Dilshan clobbered S Sreesanth, Singh and Ajit Agarkar, hitting cleanly through the line of the ball and peppering the long-on and long-off boundaries. With the fielders in the circle, the lofted hits mostly found the fence, and slowly Arnold joined in too. The last 70 came in a mere eight overs, and by the end it was hardly a contest.
When Gambhir left, though, the innings fell away, with four wickets going down for 33, as India slid to 230 for 7. From there, Dravid took centrestage. In the early stages, he did the consolidation act to perfection, eschewing all risks, nudging the ones and twos, and ensuring that Muttiah Muralitharan didn't make further inroads into the Indian innings. Then, when the innings desperately needed an injection of momentum towards the end, Dravid was there to provide that too. Despite being hampered by cramps Dravid peppered the fence with some audacious strokes, kept the legs pumping with excellent running between the wickets, and goaded the lower-order batsmen to stay with him while 43 runs came from the last four overs.
The early stages of the innings, though, belonged to Gambhir. If he felt the pressure of replacing Tendulkar in the side, Gambhir certainly didn't let it show, as he waded into Sri Lanka's new-ball bowlers with a gusto which would have done Tendulkar proud. Showing twinkle-toed footwork, Gambhir was quick to rock back to anything even marginally short and whack it through point and cover, but when the bowlers pitched it up the front-foot drives were out in a trice. He was even confident enough to use his feet to Nuwan Zoysa in the fourth over of the innings, clipping him over square leg for six.
At 208 for 4 in the 38th over, India were well on course for 300 or more, but the innings then lost it's way as Maharoof shrugged off his poor form with an accurate spell - his figures in the series before this game were 192 runs for two wickets in 24 overs - helped generously by some senseless batting by the Indian middle and lower order. Though Dravid lifted the innings later, the final total was still around 25 short of par on a belter.
Virender Sehwag b Zoysa 19 (50 for 1)
Inside-edged an attempted cut off a delivery too close for the stroke
Mahendra Singh Dhoni lbw b Zoysa 0 (50 for 2)
Trapped by one which pitched on leg and straightened fractionally
Yuvraj Singh c Jayawardene b Vaas 3 (69 for 3)
Mistimed a lofted flick to short midwicket
Gautam Gambhir c Atapattu b Maharoof 103 (197 for 4)
Superb left-handed catch at short midwicket off a well-struck pull
Venugopal Rao c Tharanga b Maharoof 6 (208 for 5)
Slogged one to the square-leg boundary
Suresh Raina lbw b Maharoof 13 (224 for 6)
All tangled up while trying to lap it to fine leg
Ajit Agarkar c Arnold b Maharoof 4 (230 for 7)
Chipped a catch to mid-on
Murali Kartik c Atapattu b Fernando 8 (262 for 8)
Drove a full-toss to cover
Sanath Jayasuriya c Rao b Agarkar 8 (15 for 1)
Edged to first slip
Upul Tharanga c Sehwag b Agarkar 14 (61 for 2)
Skied a drive to mid-off
Kumar Sangakkara c Rao b Singh 39 (73 for 3)
Slashed to first slip
Marvan Atapattu c & b Kartik 39 (143 for 4)
Got a leading edge when trying to flick
Mahela Jayawardene run out (Yadav) 39 (155 for 5)
Superb direct hit from mid-off
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo.