Sri Lanka claim consolation victory
Finally Sri Lanka showed up, prevented their first 5-0 series whitewash, and stopped India at nine ODI wins in a row. A turnaround began at the first toss they won in the series, continued with near-centuries from Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara, and culminated in an energetic and smart show in the field.
For 62 balls Yuvraj Singh played a dream knock, keeping India in the game despite wickets falling around him. When he became the fifth Indian to fall, for a dazzling 73 out of India's 121 in the 22nd over, the 321-run target looked far away. But for that blitz from Yuvraj and a late-order collapse, Sri Lanka dominated the whole game, a feat that had looked unimaginable in the first four games.
Perhaps the toss played a big part. This was only the second time Mahela Jayawardene beat Mahendra Singh Dhoni with the coin in the last 11 occasions. On a dry track, Sanath Jayasuriya and Dilshan provided Sri Lanka with the ideal start and feasted on the wayward trio of Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharma, and L Balaji, making his ODI comeback after more than three years.
It was Jayasuriya who provided Sri Lanka with the springboard. During his short stay at the crease he beat the bowlers into submission. By the team Jayasuriya departed in the 11th over, after having displayed his trademark clip over midwicket, cut through point, the short-arm pull, and the loft over mid-off, Sri Lanka had reached 66.
The pyrotechnics may have stopped upon Jayasuriya's dismissal, but the runs kept coming at a fair pace. Sangakkara picked up boundaries regularly, minus the flashy strokeplay. The second ball he faced, Sangakkara reached out for a fullish delivery and cut it off the front foot for four. He also benefited from some wayward bowling from Virender Sehwag, who gave him a gift down the leg side at least once in his three overs. The fine-leg fielder was a busy man when Sehwag bowled, but in vain. Sehwag was replaced by another part-timer - India used six such bowlers, making it nine in all - but Sangakkara's paddle to fine leg kept yielding him rich results. In all, Sangakkara took 28 runs behind square on the leg side.
India tried to hustle through the middle overs, using all their dibbly-dobbly part-time spinners to bowl 21 overs between the drinks breaks, but all they managed to hurry was the scoring. Sangakkara's slog-sweeping over midwicket was effective. He hit three fours and a six there, taking 23 runs in the midwicket region. But his final slog-sweep denied him a century and ended a 143-run partnership.
It was easy to miss Dilshan with Jayasuriya and Sangakkara going hard, and he chose to stay inconspicuous, running hard between the wickets and waiting for the loose deliveries. He was especially severe outside off, finding the gaps through the covers consistently. Seventy of his runs, and eight of his nine boundaries, came through the point and cover region. His running with Sangakkara was exemplary, both of them often running seconds on the throw. This was Dilshan's first half-century of the series, and could very easily have been a century but Dilshan became part of a late collapse.
In his comeback spell, Ishant took two wickets in an over during a period when four wickets fell in six deliveries. As a result only 65 came in the last nine overs, and India were upbeat going into the chase.
But all such notions were put to rest in the first three overs through some smart cricket by Jayasuriya and Sangakkara. First Jayasuriya moved to his left to take a sharp catch from Sehwag off Thilan Thushara, in the second over of the innings. In the next over Sangakkara, who stood up to the seamers right from the start of the innings, hung on to a thick edge from Suresh Raina.
Yuvraj, though, didn't slow down even as India kept losing top-order wickets. Yuvraj picked his fifth delivery from outside off and flicked it over square leg for four. That was about the worst his timing would get, and this was divinely timed. Mere pushes split the field and sped off for boundaries, flicks and half-lofts reached the boundary on the bounce, and those hit straight to the fielders took some stopping. Neither Nuwan Kulasekara, Farveez Maharoof nor Thushara was spared as Yuvraj picked the slower balls and swept with ease; one of them off Maharoof went for a huge six. Yuvraj reached his 50 in 46 balls, hitting 10 boundaries.
The trouble was that two more wickets fell quickly, and Yuvraj had to keep the scoring-rate up. In the 22nd over of the innings he top-edged a sweep off Muttiah Muralitharan to give Sri Lanka the final fillip. At that time India needed 200 more in 28 overs, and as they looked to consolidate the asking-rate kept creeping on them. Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja, the debutant, got half-centuries, but they were always racing against time. And the latter had a head start.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo