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August 29, 2008
Sri Lanka's opening bowlers ensured their side maintained its record of not losing four consecutive ODIs at home as they beat India in the final ODI in Colombo. While one of them took career-best figures, the other got his career-best score.
Nuwan Kulasekara dismissed the Indian top order, troubling the batsmen with movement off the seam, after Thilan Thushara had scored a half-century to boost a faltering Sri Lankan innings to 227. There followed a rain interruption and, when play resumed with six overs docked, India crumbled to Ajantha Mendis and Dilhara Fernando, losing seven wickets for 33 runs to finish on 103, their lowest score in Sri Lanka.
Chasing 228 - Mahela Jayawardene won the toss for the first time in the series and followed the winning strategy of batting first - Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli, were beaten by Kulasekara's line but hung on to hit the loose deliveries for fours. Thushara, bowling immediately after his unbeaten 94-run stand with Jehan Mubarak, also got the ball to cut in and was unlucky to have an appeal for caught behind turned down off his first ball of the innings. The delivery landed on the seam and straightened with the angle and replays suggested it took the edge off Gambhir's bat before reaching the keeper.
But Kulasekara got Gambhir soon after, with a tactic Sri Lanka had used earlier in the series. Kumar Sangakkara stood up to the stumps and Gambhir, perhaps distracted, edged the next ball to the keeper. While Thushara moved the ball away from Kohli, Kulasekara seamed it in and the batsman brought his front foot across the line only to be trapped in front. He beat Suresh Raina with a delivery that cut in to the left-hander before having him caught at midwicket.
Raina's wicket was the turning point of the innings: it triggered a collapse that saw eight wickets fall in 12.2 overs. It had been drizzling when he was batting, and a reckless heave to midwicket was unpardonable for an in-form batsman, besides D/L calculations would have been the focus in the dressing room. The players went off right after Raina's fall, and came back with the target revised to 216 off 44 overs, and Sri Lanka in the advantage.
That target would have been a lot smaller if not for Thushara's innings. He joined Mubarak at the crease with Sri Lanka at 133 for 6. Though several boundaries came off edges in their partnership, Mubarak and Thushara rotated the strike, something the top order had failed to. Thushara drove and cut confidently to get to his maiden half-century. The two batsmen were kept quiet by left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha but attacked the wayward length of RP Singh and Irfan Pathan in the final ten overs.
The Sri Lankan top-order's contribution would have looked even worse if not for the 77-run stand between left-handers Mahela Udawatte and Malinda Warnapura. They countered Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel's tight bowling and settled down after the first Powerplay, working out the gaps in the field and choosing to tip and run in order to up the run-rate.
Zaheer tried to hurry them with shorter deliveries, but Udawatte picked out the loose balls over the in-field and forced the bowlers to vary their length, which only resulted in overpitched deliveries and more boundaries. The two added 39 between overs 10 and 15. Pathan dismissed Udawatte and Warnapura in the same over, but was largely ineffective from then on. Ojha troubled the lower order, bowling three successive maiden overs, as Sri Lanka added only 60 runs between overs 20 and 40.
The first innings, though, became inconsequential with India's capitulation. Kulasekara, who took all three wickets to fall before the stoppage, trapped Rohit Sharma leg before on resumption. Ajantha Mendis and Dilhara Fernando stepped up to the plate after Kulasekara finished his quota of nine overs with 4 for 40. The last seven wickets fell in 11 overs: Mendis dismissed Yuvraj Singh for the third time in the series and wrapped up the tail, while Fernando generated bounce and movement to bowl Dhoni and have RP Singh caught by Jayawardene. As in the first ODI, this was an embarassing loss, but India had already secured the series in the previous match.
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