India seal maiden series triumph in Sri Lanka
India made the most of the toss, a vicious turner in the second innings and Sri Lanka's feeble batting to record their first bilateral one-day series triumph on the island, completing a stunning turnaround from the crushing defeat in the opener in Dambulla. Mahendra Singh Dhoni led from the front with his batting and on-field captaincy but this was a team performance as India recovered from a shaky start to choke Sri Lanka out of the match.
It turned out to be a great toss for Dhoni to win: Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis would have been virtually unplayable if they got to bowl second, and India's strategy of going in with four bowlers would also have been exposed. It didn't initially seem that way as India's top order floundered in the face of some disciplined bowling. There were no yorkers, no bouncers and no slower balls, just old-fashioned line-and-length to slow down the openers - only four boundaries came in the first ten overs. Kohli survived a couple of early chances before he started to grow in confidence.
At the other end, Gambhir was starved of the strike and perished when attempting to up the run-rate. That brought Yuvraj Singh to the crease for a short, troubled and runless stay. Chaminda Vaas became the fourth man to take 400 wickets in ODIs when Yuvraj was too early on an offcutter and edged it to short midwicket. Kohli unleashed some wristy shots to bring up his maiden half-century but soon paid the price for playing away from his body, an inside edge on to his stumps giving Thushara a wicket in his first over.
The score read 81 for 3 before Suresh Raina and Dhoni took charge. Both were decisive with their footwork, regularly charging down the track to negate the spin, or playing right back and reading the spin off the pitch. The running between the wickets was sharp, and with Raina playing some breathtaking lofted drives, the stuttering run-rate got a lift.
They batted sensibly, cutting out the risks, and it wasn't until India were out of trouble that the more chancy strokes - the reverse-sweep and the paddle-sweep - were brought out. While Raina played the big shots, including a massive pull for six over midwicket off Muttiah Muralitharan, Dhoni was content with some quick singles and twos - there were only four boundaries in his 71.
The spin threat was negated and the pair had powered India to a commanding 224 for 3 in the 41st over before Thushara struck. He had Raina holing out to mid-off and dismissed a tiring Dhoni soon after, leaving two new batsmen to deal with the wiles of Murali and Ajantha Mendis. They throttled the runs, which resulted in more wickets falling, and Thilan Thushara, who had never taken more than two wickets in an ODI before, took two in the final over to complete his five-for.
The tricky target didn't seem enough as Sanath Jayasuriya started in a typically murderous mood , using his favourite cut shot to pepper the off-side boundary. As he made merry, his partner Malinda Warnapura toiled at the other end. Warnapura scratched around without scoring before finally being adjudged lbw off Munaf Patel for 0 in the seventh over.
Munaf combined well with the accurate Zaheer Khan, who kept it on a back of a length around off, to stifle the runs and with only 10 runs coming in six overs, Kumar Sangakkara went for his shots. There was a cover drive for four, but his next stroke was an attempted cut, which took the bottom-edge and cannoned into his leg stump.
Jayasuriya then took over. Boundaries started to flow in every over: a bouncer on leg stump was pulled over deep backward square leg for six, and an over-the-bowler's-head drive off Praveen. The fifty came up with a pull over midwicket for four and he repeated the shot two balls later, this time for six. He had made 60 of Sri Lanka's 74 before an outside edge off a sharply turning Harbhajan Singh delivery was superbly held by a diving Raina at slip.
Sri Lanka's hopes, as it has in several matches this series, rested with their captain, Mahela Jayawardene, but he was soon run out attempting a suicidal single. That left them at stuttering at 104 for 4, with all their big-name batsmen dismissed. The pitch had by now deteriorated to the extent that even a part-time spinner like Yuvraj was difficult to negotiate. Thushara followed up his five-wicket haul with a spirited 40 but it was too tall a task for the lower order and they ended up 46 runs short.
Siddarth Ravindran is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo