Yuvraj powers India to victory
Another day, another emphatic romp, and a resounding slap in the face for those who continue to doubt the wisdom of the Greg Chappell-inspired rotation policy. Even with Rahul Dravid, captain and scourge of bowling attacks, cooling his heels in the pavilion, a Virender Sehwag-led Indian side decimated Sri Lanka by seven wickets with 91 balls to spare. RP Singh had been the pick of a five-man attack that rolled over an abject Sri Lankan line-up in 42.5 overs, and Yuvraj Singh then bludgeoned and caressed a superb unbeaten 79 to utterly humiliate a side that had started the series rated second only to Australia.
When Sehwag miscued a leg-side flick to leave India at 92 for 3 on a pitch that was getting slower and lower, Marvan Atapattu - already handicapped by the absence of Muttiah Muralitharan - may have glimpsed an opening, but that proved a chimera as Yuvraj vindicated the selectors' faith in his talent with some handsome strokes down the ground. With Mohammad Kaif anchoring the innings effortlessly, Yuvraj grew in confidence, thumping sixes off Upul Chandana and Tillakaratne Dilshan before a breathtaking loft sent a Dilhara Fernando delivery on to the top of a canvas awning at wide long-off.
The deepest cuts had been administered earlier though, by a 19-year-old playing only his third ODI. RP Singh produced the ball of the day to snare the in-form Upul Tharanga, and finished with stunning figures of 4 for 35 on a surface intended for batsmen to make merry. He and the other bowlers were backed up by some splendid fielding as order was restored in a series where the Indian dominance has been nothing short of overwhelming.
But for a scintillating 59 from Dilshan and a doughty 30 from Chandana, Sri Lanka's plight would have been far worse, and some of the shot selection from the seniors would have had Tom Moody bloodying his head against the dressing-room wall. It really was that pathetic.
Sanath Jayasuriya and Tharanga had given their side the perfect platform, adding 44 at over a run a ball as both S Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan struggled for control on a placid pitch. But when Sreesanth, who had been carted for three fours in his first over, went round the wicket, the impact was immediate, and the end of Jayasuriya's belligerent cameo gave India the opening they needed.
Kumar Sangakkara failed to spot a slower ball and perished to an ugly hoick for the second time in the series, and with RP Singh getting steep bounce to see off Tharanga, Sri Lanka were suddenly neck-deep in trouble. The second Powerplay produced just 19 runs, and their woes intensified when Murali Kartik lured Mahela Jayawardene down the pitch with his first delivery. Atapattu's nothing shot at RP Singh epitomised a disgraceful effort from the top order, and only some fluent shot-making from Dilshan took the total past three figures.
With Harbhajan Singh and Kartik giving little away, Russel Arnold, who had helped Dilshan win the Ahmedabad game, was the first victim of some razor-sharp infielding, and when Dilshan followed in similar fashion after clattering some powerful shots in every direction, the match had slipped out of reach. Nuwan Zoysa was subbed without playing a shot or bowling a ball, but Farveez Maharoof wasn't upto any heroics, and it was fitting that RP Singh - with his steady, consistent medium-pace - wrapped up a superb session for the Indians.
Gautam Gambhir's blazing 28 foiled Sri Lankan hopes of an early breakthrough, even as Sachin Tendulkar appeared perfectly content to play the support role. Gambhir had thumped six boundaries in a 27-ball effort by the time Fernando got his patented wide-grip slower ball to ricochet into the stumps via the inside edge.
Tendulkar, rested for the previous match, played two sumptuous off-drives off a listless Chaminda Vaas before he too perished to Fernando in slow mode. That set the stage for Sehwag, the stand-in captain, to come in and play an innings of substance, but despite smashing four fours in quick time - including a reverse sweep off Jayasuriya - he couldn't get out of the cameo-rut that he has fallen into. As far as the big picture was concerned though, it made little difference, with Yuvraj and India cruising towards the victory that gave them a thoroughly deserved 5-1 lead in the series.
Sanath Jayasuriya c Dhoni b Sreesanth 19 (44 for 1)
Thin inside edge trying to force the ball away
Kumar Sangakkara c Tendulkar b Pathan 9 (56 for 2)
Too early into the pull, top-edged to wide mid-on
Upul Tharanga c Dhoni b RP Singh 28 (57 for 3)
Surprised by extra bounce, edged behind
Mahela Jayawardene stumped Dhoni b Kartik 14 (79 for 4)
Pushed forward in defence, beaten by turn away from the bat
Marvan Atapattu c Sehwag b RP Singh 9 (83 for 5)
Lazy waft devoid of footwork, simple grab for mid-on
Russel Arnold run out (Kaif/ Dhoni) 8 (118 for 6)
Caught well short by the cover fielder's throw to the keeper after Dilshan called for a run
Chaminda Vaas b Kartik 9 (132 for 7)
Attempt to work the ball away on the off side trickles on to the stumps via the pads
Tillakaratne Dilshan run out (Yuvraj) 59 (161 for 8)
Caught just short by direct hit from cover-point
Farveez Maharoof (Supersub) c Kaif b RP Singh 4 (182 for 9)
Lofted to cover
Upul Chandana b RP Singh 30 (196 all out)
Plays down the wrong line to a full delivery bowled from round the wicket
Gautam Gambhir b Fernando 28 (43 for 1)
Chopped a slower delivery bowled from round the wicket onto his stumps
Sachin Tendulkar c Maharoof b Fernando 19 (57 for 2)
Chipped a slower ball straight to the man at mid-on
Virender Sehwag c Dilshan b Chandana 22 (92 for 3)
Leading edge goes to short extra-cover
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo.