Sri Lanka's seniors pull their weight
Sri Lanka's three senior batsmen stepped up their game in front of a clamorous full house in Dambulla to end their four-tournament losing streak at home to India. Tillakaratne Dilshan will grab the headlines for his maiden century in Sri Lanka, which he celebrated by running halfway to the dressing room and pointing to his shirt number, but his opening partner Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara also played vital roles in a game they desperately wanted to win.
The league phase of the tournament may have had lacklustre crowds, but Dambulla was transformed on the day of the final. A procession of fans led by men on stilts, enjoying baila music from a band sitting in the back of a pick-up truck, made its way through the town as early as 10 am, four hours before the toss. The usually empty roads leading to the stadium had plenty of traffic, parking lots around the ground did brisk business and the bands in the stands kept their volume up right from the toss. In addition to the usual cheerleader, 74-year-old Percy Abeysekera, there were two sets of young, jeans-clad, pom-pom-waving cheergirls.
Dilshan ensured Percy, the girls and the crowd had something to shout about right from the start. He played his bread-and-butter carves over point, and his usual method of planting his front foot down and swinging through the line also fetched plenty of runs. He set about dismantling India's four-man pace attack on what both captains agreed was the best batting track of the series. Only when he was nearing triple figures did Dilshan switch to a lower gear.
Dilshan had lost his match fee after his role in the Suraj Randiv no-ball controversy, and could have got into more disciplinary bother after a verbal spat with Munaf Patel in the seventh over, but the umpires quickly intervened to ensure there was no further drama. Dilshan didn't let that incident, or a knee injury caused by a mis-hit pull off Ishant, affect his focus. "I got a start in last three matches [making 45, 44 and 35]. I was very disappointed at throwing my wicket away." he said. "Today I got the chance and made a hundred."
Jayawardene, promoted ahead of Upul Tharanga again, wasn't at his pleasing best, but he fought it out to put on the tournament's highest opening stand with Dilshan. Despite looking shaky early on, Jayawardene's resolve was always on display. After a first-over lbw reprieve, he wafted outside off against Munaf in the fourth. Immediately, he kicked the ground in disappointment and strolled towards square leg to compose himself. Similarly, when he was beaten by Ishant Sharma in the tenth over, Jayawardene spent plenty of time at the non-striker's end practising his forward defensive technique.
Sri Lanka could have squandered the advantage provided by their openers once Jayawardene fell soon after completing his 9000th ODI run and Upul Tharanga followed, but Sangakkara kept the side on target for the tournament's biggest total. It was a carefully-paced innings - his first 19 runs coming off singles, and opening out only when Dilshan was stuck for a bit in the nineties. Things were looking ominous for India when he caressed three successive off-side boundaries off Ishant in the 44th over, but he miscued to cover soon after.
This was a match Sangakkara and Sri Lanka needed to win. Twice they had stumbled to India in the final after dominating the early stages of a tournament. You could feel Sri Lanka's intensity most during the frenetic early parts of the chase. Sangakkara behind the stumps, Jayawardene at first slip and Dilshan at backward point were shouting themselves hoarse every time Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara got the ball to dart past the bat or thud into the pads. In nearly every over of the first ten, India had a close call.
While the senior batsmen made the difference, Sangakkara was happy with the discipline of his young bowlers when the Indian batsmen were trying to go after them. The least experienced members of the line-up, Thisara, Perera and Randiv, picked up three wickets each. "The way our bowlers held their nerve, and their lines and lengths, it was a solid bowling and fielding performance," Sangakkara said. "Randiv was very impressive. When Dhoni was out to hit him for as many runs as he could, Randiv kept him pretty quiet."
Sri Lanka's seemingly endless cycle of matches with India over the past two years has come to an end. Sangakkara was thrilled it finished with his team finally winning a decider at home against them for the first time since the Test series in 2008.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo