A ballistic 33-ball half-century by Robin Uthappa set the tone for the run-chase before an assured middle-order partnership between Yuvraj Singh and Sourav Ganguly steered India home to a memorable 2-1 series win ahead of their departure for the World Cup in eleven days' time. It rounded off a couple of fine series for India, with the back-to-back triumphs allowing them to put behind the nightmare they'd endured during the one-day leg of the South African tour.
Chamara Silva's outstanding maiden one-day century had allowed Sri Lanka to recover from the depths of 56 for 4, lifting them to a competitive 259, but India's batting arsenal proved to be too strong. Uthappa started off at breakneck speed, smearing nine fours and a six in a blink-and-you'll miss it effort, before the experienced hands of Virender Sehwag, Ganguly and Yuvraj sealed the issue. Yuvraj motored to his first half-century since May 2005, a factor which will no doubt be a boost ahead of India's Caribbean campaign. Ganguly managed his fourth fifty since returning to the one-day side and was deservedly presented with the Man-of-the Series award.
Chasing 260 in 47 overs was always going to provide a challenge but India didn't have to worry too much after such a frenetic start. Uthappa dominated the 92-run stand with Sehwag, where they rattled along at 7.5 an over. Walking in during the first over, after Ganguly had retired hurt with cramps in the thigh, he had a few tough moments against the fiery Lasith Malinga. He edged the first ball, which raced away past the slip cordon for four, before being beaten for pace thrice in a row. He managed two fours in the next few overs but it was only in the seventh over of the innings that he gave Dilhara Fernando a rude welcome to the crease. In a sequence that read 4,1,1,4,4,4 he dismantled Fernando with a combination of crisp flicks and slaps. It was a brand of hitting that would have made the man at the other end, Sehwag, readily applaud.
Once he fell, scooping a length delivery to mid-off, Sehwag picked up the baton. Making most of the width offered, he juddered a few boundaries square of the wicket. But he will be most disappointed with his senseless dismissal, especially after seeming to rediscover his old touch in a 43-ball 46. Turning his back on the ball a good ten feet away from the crease, lazily making his way back, he was caught napping by a sharp throw from Kumar Sangakkara.
It didn't affect the final outcome, with Yuvraj and Ganguly adding 145 in emphatic fashion, blending sparkling strokeplay with sensible strike rotation. Yuvraj was off the blocks with a sensational leg-side six off Dilhara Fernando, when he simply jutted his bat out and saw the ball soar over square leg, and didn't appear in any trouble throughout. Ganguly took the aerial route on a more regular basis - pulling Fernando majestically over square leg, lofting Malinga Bandara straight and hoicking Jayasuriya over midwicket with an air of arrogance. Yuvraj finished off the game with a flurry of boundaries, pasting Maharoof for a sequence that read 4,4,dot,6,4,4.
There would not have been a contest to begin with India had it not been for a cracking innings from Silva. From 42 for no loss, in the eighth over, Sri Lanka had slipped to 56 for 4. Jayasuriya was lured into a perilous drive, while Jayawardene rounded off a couple of forgettable tours - since the series against New Zealand, he's failed six times in seven innings - with a leading edge that ballooned to cover. Sangakkara was probably over aggressive a tad too early in his innings, driving straight to cover, while Atapattu was beaten for pace off Sreesanth's first ball and played on.
But Silva was not to be deterred by the top-order collapse. After intially testing the waters he tore into the wayward Harbhajan Singh in the middle stages. In the 24th over of the innings, Harbhajan's third, he shuffled across and swept him behind square before dancing down the track twice and carting him for a six and a four. It was an over that cost Harbhajan 17 and Sri Lanka were beginning to sense an escape route.
The way Silva, playing just his 14th ODI, shepherded the lower order was a revelation. He shared three vital partnerships. The first, a 68-run revival with Tillakaratne Dilshan, came when Sri Lanka were staring at a collapse. They rotated the strike and cashed in on the loose deliveries, plenty on offer with Harbhajan getting his line all wrong. The second stand was an efficient 41-run union with the busy Russel Arnold. His third partnership, with Farveez Maharoof, was the most effective, where the two smacked 64 in eight overs.
Maharoof donned the aggressive mantle, bringing out some devastating bottom-handed swipes against the low full-tosses that were dished out, while Silva slyly stole runs when possible. He'd enjoyed batting in India earlier this season, when he'd turned out for Sri Lanka A and ended as the second-highest run-getter in the Duleep Trophy, and he will no doubt cherish this innings for a long time to come. It was an innings in vain, yet a gem of a knock all the same. In the final analysis, though, Sri Lanka were clearly out of their depth against an Indian side which combined superlative individual effort with seamless team spirit.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo