Although there was little on paper to separate the two sides, it seemed during the first two ODIs that Sri Lanka were the better team for the long haul - less likely to make silly mistakes, and less likely to fold under pressure. And so it proved in the decider, as Pakistan crumbled to their ninth-lowest ODI total in a match that never threatened to become a genuine contest.
Sri Lanka strolled to their target in 18.2 overs, and Tillakaratne Dilshan reached his 38th ODI fifty with the winning four. Pakistan struck three times. They dismissed Kumar Sangakkara cheaply for the third time in a row, and the third umpire may have let Dilshan off early in his innings, but there was no way Sri Lanka were not winning this one.
For the first time in the series, Pakistan began a match in their comfort zone. Having had to chase two big targets, they won the toss and batted. This is what they like to do. It was the 31st toss Misbah-ul-Haq had won, and the 21st time he had chosen to bat. Pakistan had Saeed Ajmal back, and the pitch, everyone agreed, promised to help the spinners as the match progressed. In the deciding match of a three-match series, things were finally falling in place for them. Misbah said 260-270 would be a good score.
Pakistan did not get anywhere near that. The movement Lasith Malinga and Dhammika Prasad achieved early on may have forced them to rethink their target, but they surely would not have settled for 102 all out. They began at a crawl, scoring just six runs in the first five overs for the loss of Sharjeel Khan, but what followed flattered Sri Lanka's bowlers. This was not a typically flat ODI track, certainly, but it was definitely one on which a team could survive 50 overs. Pakistan were bowled out in less than 33, with their only respite coming during a 40-minute rain interruption when they were 81 for 8. The match was reduced, subsequently, to 48 overs a side.
Quite simply, Pakistan did not show up, which was a pity for the capacity crowd that turned up, klaxons blaring, to watch only the second ODI at the Rangiri Dambulla Stadium in the last four years. They were Sri Lanka supporters, but they would not have wanted their team to have it so easy. Dhammika Prasad replaced Nuwan Kulasekara - who had gone wicketless in the first two ODIs - and struck with just his ninth ball, as Sharjeel Khan flirted outside off stump with no footwork.
It was the start of a procession of dismissals that owed more to poor shot selection or execution than to any devilish trick of bowler or pitch. Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal and Shahid Afridi were out going for big shots, Mohammad Hafeez tried to work Malinga across the line when the ball was still moving around, and Misbah was run-out for the third time in his last seven innings.
That dismissal ended the only period of play in which Pakistan threatened to dig themselves out of trouble. Fawad Alam joined Misbah with the score 14 for 3 in the eighth over, and it was not an unfamiliar situation for the two of them. During the Asia Cup final in March, against the same opposition, the two of them had put on 122 after coming together at 18 for 3. Fawad had gone on to make an unbeaten century, and with Umar Akmal adding a late flourish, Pakistan had recovered to post 260.
Misbah and Fawad began their partnership in much the same way they had done in that match, keeping the good balls out, gathering their runs with a nurdle here and a push there, and appeared to gather some momentum when they took 16 runs from the 11th over with three streaky boundaries through third man.
The end of that over brought an end to the first spells of both opening bowlers. Runs were still coming at a trickle, but that would not have bothered this pair of batsmen too much. In the second over after drinks, however, Misbah made a fatal misjudgment. He tapped the ball to the right of backward point and set off without hesitation. Mistake.
Dilshan attacked the ball, swooped down on it, got a little lucky with perfect bounce into his right hand, and threw down the stumps at the bowler's end. Misbah was nowhere near the crease, even if the umpire S Ravi was in enough doubt to signal for his colleague upstairs.
The last six wickets added 55 runs between them, as Thisara Perera extracted disconcerting bounce to run through the middle and lower order. Only Sohaib Maqsood got a genuinely difficult ball, though, one that reared at his rib-cage and kissed his glove as he tried to pull them out of the way. Umar, having smacked Thisara over long-on for six the previous ball, tried to pull him from outside off and top-edged a catch wide of mid-on. Saeed Ajmal fell in virtually the same manner. This would have been okay if he was batting with No. 11 at the other end, not so much when Fawad was still around.