Seamers and Dhoni script 33-run win
For Sri Lanka, only Mahela Jayawardene displayed the technique and temperament to craft a lengthy innings and though he had Thilan Thushara for company to give his side a glimmer of hope, their partnership came a little too late. Jayawardene fell six short of a deserved century when a paddle scoop ended his knock and with it, Sri Lanka's last chance of snatching a miracle.
The pre-match talk centered around the better batting conditions at the Premadasa Stadium when compared to the two-paced surface in Dambulla. Though the conditions were a shade easier to bat on in the afternoon, it got considerably challenging under lights as the seamers managed swing and nip off the pitch while the spinners got turn and bounce.
While the swing was hard enough for the batsmen to negotiate under lights, the nagging stump-to-stump line was largely responsible for the spurt of lbw decisions early on. Kumar Sangakkara, Chamara Kapugedera and Chamara Silva were all trapped as the trigger-happy umpires wasted no time in pondering over the appeals.
Sanath Jayasuriya whiplashed Praveen for boundaries over his favoured off side region but perished after edging an away swinger off the same bowler. Zaheer relied more on hitting the deck hard and like in Dambulla, squared up Sangakkara with one that nipped back in and struck him high on the pad.
Kapugedera began confidently with a clipped six over square leg off Praveen but paid the price for shuffling too far across his stumps. Silva became the third lbw victim of the evening, this time to Zaheer, trapped in front of middle stump to one that straightened. Tillakaratne Dilshan, tied down by the seamers' nagging accuracy, feathered an edge to Dhoni off Munaf Patel.
All the while, Jayawardene cut a lonely figure. The revival began when Thushara joined him in the middle. Runs were hard to come by initially but Jayawardene was probably mindful of India's weak link - the fifth bowler. With the field spread out and the ball getting softer, Jayawardene placed faith in his partner by rotating the strike.
Yuvraj and Rohit Sharma conceded 46 off nine combined overs as Sri Lanka added 50 runs between overs 37 and 43. Thushara regularly made room to loft the ball over vacant spaces and the anxiety began to tell on the Indian fielders as they dropped catches off Thushara and Jayawardene. Zaheer returned to york Thushara to end the 81-run eighth-wicket stand, and when Munaf sent back Jayawardene, the contest was all but over.
Once again, Dhoni walked in to bat with the Indian innings wobbling. Often he has played a lone hand, but this time Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma offered excellent support. Raina needed runs, and with his captain for company, accumulated steadily with the spinners operating from both ends, and never at any stage did the Indians get bogged down. Dhoni was comfortable against Mendis, committing himself forward to smother the spin of the full-length deliveries, but when the length was short, he rocked back and cut and pulled for runs.
Raina, too, was fleet-footed against the spinners, nudging, flicking and driving Muralitharan for singles in his workmanlike knock. Using his feet, he drove the same bowler to the extra-cover boundary before edging towards his sixth ODI fifty, which came off 75 balls. The running between wickets was excellent throughout, but ironically, it was a run-out that ended the 54-run partnership.
Dhoni was fortunate to find an equally able partner in Rohit, who calmly rotated the strike. Short of runs over the last few innings, Rohit grafted initially before taking his chances against the spinners. The partnership came at a quicker rate than the Dhoni-Raina stand, with the pair bringing up their fifty stand in 55 balls. Dhoni brought up his own half-century off 64 balls and celebrated it with successive boundaries off Murali, using his feet well on both occasions. Just when a score in excess of 250 seemed likely, Sri Lanka struck. Rohit fell while attempting a slog off Thushara, after which the wickets continued to fall. Dhoni was dismissed in the 49th over, scooping to cover for a 80-ball 76 and in the end his efforts didn't got to waste.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a staff writer at Cricinfo