Will Sri Lanka go for a win or will they seek to knock out India and hope Australia defeat West Indies to enter the semi-finals? That was the question that hung in the air during the chase. Sri Lanka's answer was emphatic: They first sealed India's fate by going past 143, before writing their own destiny by winning off the last delivery of the game.
Kumar Sangakkara set up the chase and Angelo Mathews took them to the final lap before Chamara Kapugedera sealed the finish in style by hitting a six off the last ball. It was that close and dramatic. The captain and the two inexperienced men he had backed heavily in the past had come through when it mattered at the big stage.
It was an awesome performance from Sri Lanka, who kept wriggling back from difficult positions. They first bounced back to restrict India, who had galloped to 90 for 1 from 10 overs, courtesy a fiery knock from Suresh Raina, to 163 before shrugging off a poor start to chase down the target in thrilling fashion.
The final nail-biting moments panned out thus: Sri Lanka needed 25 runs from eight deliveries. Vinay Kumar, who had impressed until then in his first international outing, had the ball and Kapugedera, for whom wins had proven elusive despite his efforts, was on strike. A nervy Vinay slipped a full toss on the fifth ball and Kapugedera heaved it just over the leaping fielder at the long-on boundary for a six that knocked out India. He then slammed the next delivery, a full-pitched one, over long-on to reduce the equation to 13 from the final over, bowled by Ashish Nehra.
Mathews collected a six first ball with a gorgeous on-the-up hit over long-off but Nehra hit the blockhole regularly and ran him out with a direct hit at the non-striker's end. Sri Lanka needed three from the final ball and Kapugedera carved the full delivery over the cover boundary for a stunning six. Game over.
It was a shot in the 12th over against Harbhajan Singh that turned the tide for Sangakkara and Sri Lanka. Until then, Sangakkara had chosen to move along quietly. He had chosen to rebuild after the loss of Mahela Jayawardene, Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillakaratne Dilshan. Sri Lanka had just reached 67 for 3 from 11 overs when he played his first shot of intent. He sashayed down the track and Harbhajan quickly shortened the length. Sangakkara didn't panic but adjusted superbly to almost nonchalantly punch-flick it over the midwicket boundary. It was the moment in the chase as Sangakkara, who had reached 17 from 18 balls until then, ended with a 33-ball 44. He slugged Yusuf Pathan for two on-side sixes in the 14th over to tilt the game Sri Lanka's way.
At this point, Sri Lanka needed 59 from 33 balls to win and a mere 39 runs to knock out India, stay in the hunt, and hope that Australia wouldn't have an off day against West Indies. Would they go for a win, or play safe? Sangakkara chose victory and fell in the process of attaining it. In the 15th over bowled by Vinay, he backed away outside leg stump and tried to smear to the off-side but was bowled by the slower one.
It was a big moment but Mathews and Kapugedera showed excellent maturity in safely negotiating the next ten deliveries to ensure there was no dramatic implosion before they went for the target. They collected ten runs from the 18th over, bowled by Nehra, and added two more fours in the next over, from Piyush Chawla prior to completing the job.
Two events summed up the day for India. MS Dhoni couldn't get his timing going and that powerful bottom-hand was rarely seen today. He accumulated 23 at almost a run-a-ball when big hits were the need of the hour. And Harbhajan, who had bowled like a dream this tournament, had a forgettable day.
A third event further marred the day for India. Dilshan, who had a nightmarish competition before today, played a momentum-grabbing cameo after the early loss of the in-form Jayawardene and Jayasuriya. He looted five boundaries from two successive overs bowled by Nehra and Harbhajan to lift Sri Lanka from a dire 6 for 2 in two overs to 32 for 2 in four.
India lost all the big moments today. They were first slowed by the slow men, Suraj Randiv and Dilshan, before the seamers led by Lasith Malinga and a surprise performer in Thissara Perera bowled superbly to suffocate them. India had moved to 119 for 2 in 14 overs and it was a decisive phase for both teams. You would have expected India to go for the broke here but it was Sri Lanka who dominated.
Thilan Thushara, who leaked 27 runs from his first two overs, bowled the 15th and 18th over and found redemption as he gave away just ten runs. It included the wickets of Raina and Yuvraj Singh, who swung the full tosses to Jayawardene at deep midwicket. There was to be no run-fest in the end as Malinga and Perera applied the squeeze. It was the beginning of the end for India.