The big question after the XIs were announced was how India would fare with four specialist bowlers, given that their attack had been expensive in the previous three games when they had played five. After the part-time bowlers took 5 for 112 in 22 overs, though, most were left shaking their heads at the ridiculousness.
Sri Lanka had allowed Manoj Tiwary, a batsman bowling steady legbreaks, to take his best List A figures of 4 for 61 while Virender Sehwag got a wicket in eight economical overs of loopy offbreaks. The hosts made 251 for 8 after an opening partnership of 91, and Mahela Jayawardene was left to rue his side's seventh loss in eight ODI series since the 2011 World Cup after yet another Virat Kohli century.
India's three medium-pacers bowled just six overs each as Sri Lanka struggled against Tiwary and Sehwag, who bowled 12 straight overs from the 31st to the 42nd for a combined return of 3 for 50. Jayawardene said the pitch and the part-timers were both slow and that Sri Lanka lost too many wickets to be able to accelerate.
"[It was] probably a 280-290 wicket [so we were] maybe 30 runs short because of the way we batted," Jayawardene said. "But no excuses, we never handled certain situations well and created a hole which was tough for us to get out of. The plan was to take on the fifth bowler. But it is tough to do that when we were losing wickets. We never had the momentum. We lost wickets in the Powerplays and didn't have any control.
"[We were] trying to build partnerships so that we could have a platform which we didn't. We had to accelerate as well, we knew the score we were going to post wasn't going to be enough on this wicket. Trying to take risk didn't work. We didn't execute the plan well and credit to the Indians they kept putting a lot of pressure on our guys."
Kohli also commented on the lack of pace in the pitch and praised Tiwary's performance in his first ODI since December 2011. "It is a slow wicket so even if the part-timers land the ball in the right areas they can do the job if you want to play seven batsmen," Kohli said. "And it was good for Manoj as well because he hadn't got a game for a while and he got to play again. It's all about giving the challenge to the guy who has been sitting on the bench and seeing how he reacts to it. I think he did a brilliant job for us with ball. Couldn't capitalise with the bat [although] he got a good start. But as I said, the part-timers can be effective if bowled at the right time and if they bowl in the right areas so it was worth taking a chance and it paid off for us today."
Sri Lanka had India at 109 for 4 during the chase but Suresh Raina survived a close shout for caught-behind on 2 and was dropped by Jayawardene on 19, the same score on which he had been put down in the third game. Raina went on to make an unbeaten 58 in a match-winning partnership of 146 with Kohli, who was also dropped, on 100. Jayawardene credited India for handling the pressure better.
"They handled those situations better than us. We needed a couple more wickets when they were four down. I thought we got Suresh caught behind but I don't know how the others felt about it. But that is how the game goes. Things could have probably been different but we move on."
Jayawardene was asked what it would take for Sri Lanka to beat India, against whom they have just two wins from their previous ten meetings. "They have got a good batting line-up. In the last two-three years what we found is to control them we need to pick up wickets and that is what we have been trying to do with five bowlers all the time. I think they win matches with their batting [and] not so much with their bowling so for us to beat them we need to control their batting line-up."
That hasn't been happening as Sri Lanka have taken just six, five and four India wickets in the three losses in this series. Jayawardene acknowledged the need for an improved showing in the final ODI in Pallekele near Kandy.
"The bowling obviously didn't look penetrative enough and obviously not a good fielding performance in the last four games," Jayawardene said. "I know a couple of guys are really struggling with fatigue. [We will] see what the options are and try and motivate them to go out and take-up the challenge. Kandy is going to be a different challenge altogether. We need to try and put a decent performance together and see where we are at with India because we haven't played to our potential in this series."