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December 15, 2009
News : 'My best knock' - Sehwag
Analysis : Cricket in thrall as big guns slug it out
Features : Runs, boundaries, partnerships ... and then some
Matches: India v Sri Lanka at Rajkot
Series/Tournaments: Sri Lanka tour of India
The decisive spells were bowled by Harbhajan Singh, whose three overs in the middle had gone for 32 runs, and Zaheer Khan, who finished with the most expensive analysis in India's one-day history. At the end of it all, after 100 overs in which 825 runs were scored, Sri Lanka's lion cubs couldn't quite hold their nerve. Ashish Nehra did, and India crept home by three runs.
When India piled up a team-record 414 for 7, it seemed as though this too would be a depressing no-contest. But with a full-throttle approach their only option, Sri Lanka came out with genuine intent and no little menace. India had the chance to strike early, but with Upul Tharanga on 10, Virat Kohli grassed the simplest of chances at short point, and they were made to pay as Dilshan cut loose with a flurry of boundaries. He pulled and cut anything short or wide, and drove precisely down the ground when the ball was pitched too full. Just for variety, he threw in a couple of scoops as well, each evading the fielder placed at short fine leg to stop it.
Dilshan got to his half-century from just 38 balls as 81 came from the first 10 overs. Zaheer's introduction drew an imperious drive through the covers and Ravindra Jadeja was greeted with six-four-four in an over that yielded 17. Soon after, he had his hundred from 73 balls and it was Tharanga who then took up the attack, lashing Jadeja straight down the ground for two sixes on his way to 50 from 51 balls. Suresh Raina too was thumped for a straight six, before an error of judgement saw him stumped.
Sangakkara was put down by Zaheer when he had just 16, a difficult return catch, and after that India were chasing shadows. Raina was heaved for two sixes over midwicket and one down the ground and when Dilshan scooped Zaheer over fine leg for six the two had taken just 28 balls to add 50. With 164 needed from 20 overs, Sangakkara then smacked Harbhajan over long-off to reach his half-century from 24 balls.
Harbhajan then put down a straightforward chance at midwicket when Sangakkara had 58, and by the time the batting Powerplay was taken, Sri Lanka needed 124 from 15 overs. Sangakkara started it as though he intended to finish the game in a hurry. Zaheer was taken over mid-on (four), slapped over midwicket (six) and then stroked through the covers twice in an over that cost 21. But then Sri Lanka, as with India, lost the plot somewhat.
Sangakkara miscued one from Praveen Kumar to deep square leg, and after Dilshan had swung over over midwicket to reach 150, Harbhajan returned to have Sanath Jayasuriya stumped. When Dilshan was bowled going for a big heave off the first ball of his next over, the game was once again in the balance but it swung India's way when Mahela Jayawardene was run out by Kohli's throw from square leg.
Thilina Kandamby and Angelo Mathews got within range with singles and the odd shot that breached the field but with Zaheer and Nehra started to get appreciable reverse swing, knocking off the runs was no formality. They whittled it down to 15 from 12 balls when disaster struck. Kandamby didn't bother to ground his bat while going for a single and Zaheer whipped the bails off after Sachin Tendulkar had arrowed in a throw. Thilan Samaraweera too was caught short and suddenly Sri Lanka needed 11 from the final six balls.
Mathews got that down to six from three before swinging Nehra to Tendulkar's right at midwicket. Unlike some of his younger teammates, he held on without a problem, and as Mathews trudged off disconsolate, he took Sri Lanka's hopes with him.
Such drama had appeared unlikely when India started quietly after being sent in on a well-grassed pitch. There was some early movement for both Nuwan Kulasekara and Chanaka Welegedara, making his one-day debut, and the openers didn't taken too many chances as just 19 came from the first five overs. Suddenly, though, the game exploded into life, with Sehwag taking Welegedara for three fours in an over.
Thereafter, Sri Lanka were all over the place, with Tendulkar timing the ball magnificently in the V and Sehwag moving into six-hitting mode. Kulasekara, with his lack of pace, was the ideal target, clouted over cover and then pulled over midwicket with an ease that must have sent a chill down Sangakkara's spine.
Another emphatic pull off Welegedera took him to 50 from just 34 balls and he then spent some time at the non-striker's end watching Tendulkar do his thing. After two glorious lofts down the ground, Tendulkar opted for the impudent, upper-cutting Fernando over gully and slip to reach his own half-century from 48 balls.
Worse was to follow. Mathews was introduced, and Sehwag immediately went downtown, thumping one behind the sightscreen and then over cover as the six balls cost 18. Tendulkar joined in with an imperious straight loft off Jayasuriya and it needed Fernando to give the Sri Lankans some breathing space, with a beautiful incoming delivery sending him back for 69.
Sehwag, though, doesn't like pauses, and after a brief lull when only singles were taken, he whacked a short one from Jayasuriya over midwicket for six. Two fours off the hapless Mathews later, he had his 12th century, from just 66 balls. On such a great surface for batting, Dhoni wasn't going to stand and watch the fun. A six off Jayasuriya nearly went out of the ground, and when a desperate Sangakkara turned to the part-time spin of Kandamby and Dilshan, the fours continued to flow. Dhoni should have gone on 31, but Sangakkara missed a stumping after Kandamby sent down an innocuous full toss, a reprieve celebrated with straight sixes off both spinners.
Sehwag had the record individual score in his sights, but soon after the batting Powerplay was taken, Welegedara returned to get him with a low full toss that lobbed to point off the leading edge. Dhoni, after 72 from just 53 balls, followed four balls later, miscuing a slower ball from Fernando into the hands of cover. The stutter continued as Gautam Gambhir edged Kulasekara behind, and the Powerplay fetched Sri Lanka three wickets for 33 runs. Raina and Harbhajan didn't inflict much damage, but attractive cameos from Kohli and Jadeja ensured that the last few overs would be all about breaking records.
But Sri Lanka refused to blink till the very last, and it was almost the Wanderers all over again. Unfortunately for Sangakkara's brave side, Mick Lewis was nowhere to be seen.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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Plays of the day from the fifth ODI in Ranchi
Plays of the day from the fourth ODI between India and Sri Lanka in Kolkata