Muttiah Muralitharan equalled Wasim Akram's world record of 502 one-day wickets, but there was little else for a voluble crowd to celebrate as swashbuckling centuries from Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag led India to a comprehensive 147-run victory at the Premadasa Stadium. There was a big-hitting cameo from Yusuf Pathan and four wickets for the promising Pragyan Ojha as the series was wrapped up with two games to spare. Kumar Sangakkara's classy 83 proved to be little more than a footnote on a day when Sri Lanka were again way off the pace.
Yuvraj and Sehwag were in sensational form, though Sri Lanka didn't really help their cause with some decidedly poor fielding. After being reduced to 24 for 2, it was Yuvraj who cornered most of the strike, stroking some magnificent boundaries on either side of the wicket. Too often, the bowlers strayed on to the pads and he was more than happy to work them fine or swat them contemptuously over midwicket. There was much for the purist to admire too though, with beautifully timed shots through cover and backward point.
Sehwag was a spectator in the early part of the partnership, but when the opportunity presented itself, he was no less ruthless. Nuwan Kulasekara was taken for three successive fours, after which he enjoyed his first moment of good fortune. A slower ball struck him initially on the pad in front of middle stump, but the proximity of the bat to the pad and the subsequent contact fooled the umpire.
Not that Sri Lanka made their own luck either. Farveez Maharoof didn't sight the ball when Yuvraj miscued Ajantha Mendis over midwicket, and Dilhara Fernando palmed a tough chance over the rope when Sehwag, then on 45, lifted the same bowler over wide long-on. Sanath Jayasuriya was the next culprit, grassing a routine caught-and-bowled chance with Sehwag on 72.
You can't give such batsmen such reprieves. It took Yuvraj only 82 balls to score his 11th one-day century. It took Sehwag seven deliveries less. By then, they were dismissing the bowling at will. It didn't matter whether it was Murali or Mendis, or Fernando. The ball kept disappearing over the infield or into the gaps, and some appalling fielding, epitomised by Mendis letting one through his legs, merely increased Mahela Jayawardene's angst.
Yuvraj finally departed after making 117 off 95 balls, but there was no real zest to Murali's celebration. By then, the partnership was worth 221, from just only balls. Sehwag left not long after, for 116 off 90 balls, when Jayasuriya threw the stumps down from mid-off. The scoreboard showed 265, and there were still 15.1 overs to be bowled. Yusuf Pathan then clouted three mighty sixes down the ground on his way to a 33-ball half-century, and though Mahendra Singh Dhoni was initially circumspect, the damage had already been done.
India would argue that they were due a rub of the Colombo green. Sachin Tendulkar, who had thumped an enormous six off a free hit, was unlucky to be given out leg-before for the third time in the series. The Fernando delivery was slanting down the leg side, but the umpire decided otherwise, leaving Tendulkar with 18 runs after three matches.
Gautam Gambhir, dropped before he had scored by Thilina Kandamby at point, was then run out after backing up too far. Again, Fernando's luck was in, with Sehwag's firm straight drive just brushing his fingertips before colliding with the stumps. It wouldn't halt India's momentum though, against pace and spin alike. They took 50 off the bowling Powerplay and 43 from the batting one, and a mammoth total gradually took shape.
But for a 67-run partnership between Sangakkara and Jayawardene, Sri Lanka were never in the contest. Sanath Jayasuriya chopped the first ball he faced on to the stumps. Praveen Kumar's relative lack of pace and a hint of swing provided the breakthrough, and though Tillakaratne Dilshan got the scoreboard moving with a couple of streaky fours, the required rate was a Damocles sword hanging over Sri Lankan heads from the outset.
Dilshan pulled Praveen for one mighty six, but his attempt to cleave Zaheer over midwicket only resulted in the middle stump being pegged back. The captain and his deputy briefly resurrected hopes, taking 39 from the bowling Powerplay, but India tightened their grip once Sri Lanka opted to take the batting one immediately afterwards.
Jayawardene miscued Praveen to Virender Sehwag at mid-off and the spell was broken, and Kandamby, nearly the hero in the last game, followed soon after, with an ill-judged reverse sweep. Dhoni had waited till the end of the fielding restrictions to introduce spin, and the gamble worked a treat.
Pragyan Ojha, taken for two fours in his opening over, turned one right across Chamara Kapugedera's bat to hit middle stump. And with the ball gripping and turning, Ojha turned in his best one-day display. Farveez Maharoof was smartly caught at slip and Sangakkara's resistance ended with a miscue to short fine leg, before Murali under-edged one to Dhoni.
A last-wicket partnership of 26 was merely academic, and there was plenty to ponder for a Sri Lankan side that bore no resemblance whatsoever to the one that was once so formidable on home turf.