Sri Lanka missed out on a golden opportunity to shrug off the runners-up tag and take the winners' trophy in a meaningful tournament when they messed up what should have been a very gettable target at the Adelaide Oval, but that shouldn't take away from what has been a terrific tournament for Mahela Jayawardene and his team. They inflicted four defeats on a buoyant Australian side that was coming off a comprehensive thrashing of India in the Test series, and they did it on Australian pitches, which is a huge reason to celebrate for an outfit that has often struggled in conditions it is not used to. The margins of those results further indicate which was the better team: Sri Lanka's three losses were by 5, 15 and 16 runs; of their four wins, two were by whopping margins - by eight wickets with 101 balls to spare in Sydney, and by as many wickets with 34 balls remaining in the second final.
In all this, the most encouraging aspect has been the performance of their batsmen. Often in the past Sri Lanka's batsmen have looked pretty and racked up plenty of runs in home conditions, only to come a cropper when pitches have more bounce and offer some assistance to quick bowling. That pattern, though, changed somewhat when they twice successfully chased targets of 300 or more in South Africa, but their consistency in Australia was more impressive, for these weren't dead rubbers, and the momentum was maintained over many more matches, under a punishing schedule, and often when some of their top players were unavailable due to injury.
This is only the third time that Sri Lanka have won five matches in a series outside Asia against the top teams (excluding Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, and the other non-Test-playing sides). The two previous instances were in the 2006 NatWest Series, when they blanked England 5-0, and in the 2007 World Cup, when they reached the final and beat five top sides along the way. Arguably, though, the intensity in this tournament was greater than in the 2007 World Cup, given that there were no easy matches against lesser teams to offer respite.
* Excl those against B'desh, Zim, and the other non-Test-playing sides
Coming back to Sri Lanka's batting display, the most impressive aspect was the form displayed by their top four. Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and the immensely promising Dinesh Chandimal took on Australia's pace attack with a gusto that was refreshing to watch after the limp display of India's top order.
Dilshan scored 513 runs in 11 innings at 51.30, and a strike rate of almost 84. It was the first time a batsman from the subcontinent scored 500-plus runs in a one-day tournament in Australia: the highest for India is VVS Laxman's 443 in 2003-04, while Pakistan's highest is 395, by Ijaz Ahmed in 1996-97. (Click here for the full list.)
Apart from Dilshan, there were others who contributed handsomely too. Chandimal averaged 52.37 for his 419 runs, while Sangakkara and Jayawardene both scored over 400 runs at 40-plus averages. In fact, four of the top six aggregates by Sri Lankan batsmen in ODI series outside Asia were achieved on this Australian visit, which shows just how exceptional their batting display was.
* Runs scored against the top sides only
Only twice has Sri Lanka's top four had a higher average in a series outside Asia. Their best was in the NatWest Series in England, when Jayawardene averaged over 100, with Upul Tharanga and Sanath Jayasuriya averaging over 64. Each of those three batsmen scored two hundreds in that five-match series. The other instance was in a triangular series in Morocco in 2002, when Aravinda de Silva and Jayasuriya were the top performers. Both those series, though, consisted of only five matches for Sri Lanka; in Australia, they maintained their form over a much longer period.
All stats against the top teams only
And a comparison of the top four for the three teams in this CB Series shows how far ahead Sri Lanka's top order was compared to the other two teams. Compared to Sri Lanka's average of 43.30, Australia's top four managed only 33.54, and India's 31.22. India's strike rate was marginally higher, but that was almost entirely due to that stunning run-chase against Sri Lanka in Hobart.
A key reason for Sri Lanka's success in the tournament was the opening combination, or rather, the move to push Jayawardene up the order at the expense of Tharanga. In the first three games, when Tharanga opened with Dilshan, the opening partnerships yielded 12, 11 and 0. After that, once Jayawardene teamed up with Dilshan, the opening partnership flowered, and that immediately put pressure on the opposition bowlers and gave the Sri Lankan middle order a healthy platform to build on. In their eight innings together, they added 524 runs at an average of 64.50 and a run rate of 6.03 runs per over. Their record was well clear of the other opening combinations in the series.
In fact, Dilshan's elevation to the top of the order has significantly improved his numbers too. Before he moved to the top, he averaged just 29.06 in 129 innings; since the beginning of 2009, when he started opening the batting, he has averaged 44.35 in 82 innings, with 11 centuries. No other opener has scored as many runs or centuries during this period.