Sri Lanka's life assurance policy to the rescue again
At the end of the 15th over, India were 95 for 2. They had erected a platform, Virat Kohli feverishly throwing up scaffolding while Yuvraj Singh pulled on his overalls and got ready to go to work. Nuwan Kulasekara bowled the next over and Kohli rattled 14 off the first three deliveries, as India moved friskily into three figures. Keep going at that sort of rate and they would set a useful 160-odd, enough to put the pressure on to a Sri Lanka batting attack that has developed a few creaks.
Kohli finished the over on 70 from 50 balls. He would end the innings being run out for 77 from 58. The last four overs of the India innings dragged them under like a dead weight. Yuvraj never got going, and practically played a match-losing knock, as Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga and Sachithra Senanayake colluded in a T20 closing spell for the ages. Kumar Sangakkara, whose unbeaten half-century clinched the match, said he had never seen anything like it.
If Quentin Tarantino's film Deathproof was about cricket, it would star Malinga bowling the final overs. He is Sri Lanka's life assurance policy. Here he filled the 18th and 20th with yorker after yorker, mostly wide, occasionally trying to play the xylophone on the batsman's toes, all virtually unhittable. Yuvraj poked and prodded; at the other end Kohli twiddled and fumed. MS Dhoni could barely touch him, either, while two of the runs that did come at the end were byes, when even Sangakkara was foxed.
Yuvraj had already taken three balls to get off strike to Senanayake in the 17th, then Kohli was kept down to two singles from the remaining two balls. Twice Malinga sneaked dipping full-bungers past Yuvraj, as Sri Lanka ticked up the deliveries without conceding a boundary.
Malinga had the triple burden of captaincy, expectation and the memory of 2012. "Past is past," he said dismissively afterwards, when asked about the final against West Indies two years ago, when his second over was taken for 21 and his third 19. Flamed by Marlon Samuels, he ended with figures of 0 for 54. This time he was wicketless again, but not trophyless. Past is past, now.
With 12 balls to go, Kulasekara returned, changing ends. Yuvraj spooned a full toss to long-off, who must have considered whether dropping it and allowing the batsmen to run two was a better option than taking the catch. India had lost their lead balloon but the gravitational forces were by now too strong. This is supposed to be the time of the innings that bowlers lose the thread and completely unspool; instead, Kulasekara targeted the inner edge of the tramlines unerringly and tightened the game even further.
Malinga bowled a wide in the final over, almost as if out of pity. Dhoni couldn't hit the first three legitimate balls, one of which slowed down to flirt with off stump on its way through. Kohli finally managed to get on strike for the last delivery of the innings, having faced just seven of the preceding 23. No boundaries had been scored and none would be. Worse, Kohli was dismissed by a direct hit trying to squeeze one last concession out of Malinga. Four overs, 13 singles, a two, two byes, a leg bye and a wide.
Sangakkara had one word for the display: "immaculate". It denied India a score approaching competitive, somehow managing to vacuum-wrap the Man of the Tournament and neuter his team-mates. Kohli had a medal hung round his neck come the end but not the one he wanted; Yuvraj had an albatross.
"Those last four overs were immaculate," Sangakkara said, "I haven't seen four overs like that bowled to a guy on 70-something off 50 balls and to a guy like MS Dhoni who can hit any ball out of the park, for them not to be able to get bat on ball for four overs, 24 balls, that just goes to show the quality of our bowling attack and the hard work that they've done, the planning before this game and how we executed that. I think that really set up the win, chasing 130, you'd take that any day on any wicket but to restrict a side like that we needed something special and our bowlers produced it."
Faced with India's prince and one of their grand old dukes, Malinga, Kulasekara and Senanayake thought nothing of deference. Afterwards, it was Dhoni who had to pay tribute. "You should give credit to the Sri Lankan bowlers," he said. "They executed their plan brilliantly. They were looking for wide yorkers and all the balls were perfect wide yorkers. I think they only bowled one wide, other than that they were right on mark, which made it all the more difficult for our batsmen to score freely."
Two years ago in Colombo, West Indies resuscitated their chances in the latter stages to set Sri Lanka a target that was beyond their reach. This time around, fittingly, it was Malinga with the hooded cloak and scythe, and India's chances that were put to rest.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here