A batting Powerplay that cost Sri Lanka three wickets for 16 runs sucked the oxygen out of an already imperiled innings, and set the visitors on course for a third hiding on the trot. Sri Lanka's six-wicket loss in Hyderabad surrendered the series to India, who have not only been untested in the three matches so far, but have also discovered potential gems among their second-string players.
Akshar Patel is perhaps chief among them: He removed three batsmen through the middle overs, while Umesh Yadav struck at either end of the innings to earn a career-best haul of 4 for 53.
Sri Lanka at least had one batsman make triple figures during their innings of 242, but Mahela Jayawardene took little visible joy in his effortless 118 off 124, as a string of team-mates abandoned him during the middle overs. Jayawardene became the fifth batsman to 12000 career runs during the knock, before Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli hit half-centuries to notch career milestones of their own, in India's innings. Kohli became the fastest batsmen to 6000 ODI runs in his 136th innings, while Dhawan became the quickest India batsman to 2000 runs, in his 48th knock.
It had been Akshar, however, who made the most telling play of the game, taking a wicket in each of his three Powerplay overs to gut the visitors' middle order. As has been the case throughout the series, it was his fluctuations in pace that vexed Sri Lanka.
Angelo Mathews had appeared settled when the Powerplay was called for in the 31st over. He had reverse-swept R Ashwin powerfully for four a few balls before, but was slow on the pull as Akshar skidded one through and the top edge looped to cover.
Akshar's flat, fast deliveries in the next over kept Ashan Priyanjan scoreless for four balls, before the mistake was induced. The batsman aimed a heave over mid-on, but managed only to hit it to Yadav, who took a diving catch. Chaturanga de Silva, playing this match instead of Suraj Randiv, attempted to carve Akshar over cover in the final over of the Powerplay. When he found the fielder, Sri Lanka had slipped from 144 for 3 to 154 for 6. Thisara Perera's wicket two overs later, embedded them in further strife.
Even before the crumble in the Powerplay, Jayawardene had to launch a rescue effort alongside Tillakaratne Dilshan. The pair rebuilt sagely from 7 for 2 as Jayawardene reverted to perhaps the safest version of his own game by collecting his first boundary via a ramp over the keeper's head, played sinfully late. Eleven of his 12 fours were scored behind the wicket, and 80 of his 118 made in the same region.
Dilshan scrambled a fifty, but Jayawardene's next four partners lasted 11.2 overs put together, and soon, having lost faith in his team-mates, Jayawardene was turning down singles into the outfield as early as in the 38th over. Seekkuge Prasanna was put down by Suresh Raina in the slips on 0 and provided Jayawardene slightly better company after that, sticking around for a partnership of 67 before Jayawardene was stummped of an Ashwin top-spinner. The innings would soon wipe out in the 49th over, with about 60 fewer runs on the scoreboard than what might have made for an interesting chase on a flat Hyderabad pitch.
Sri Lanka had recalled Nuwan Kulasekara for this match, but he could find little swing early on, and India's batsmen quickly settled into a now familiar routine. They laid low for the first few overs, waited for the seam to grow soft, then began to play their strokes. Ajinkya Rahane fell to Thisara Perera's prolonged short-ball attack, but Dhawan and Rayudu picked up the pace quickly after that, ensuring 62 for 1 was as weak as India's chase would look.
Dhawan had hit his third successive fifty, and the visitors' attack had been rendered virtually toothless when the India batsmen contrived a run out in the 25th over - a seething Rayudu having to make the trek back on 35, after Dhawan failed to respond to his call for a quick single. Kohli then arrived and settled in with ease from there, hitting some superbly timed boundaries, particularly when the bowlers strayed too full.
Dhawan looked set for a second ton in the series until he got a bad decision on 91, when a Kulasekara short-ball took a deflection off his helmet, rather than his bat. Kohli though, breezed ahead at a run-a-ball, raising his 31st ODI fifty and his 6000th run with the same stroke. He was caught at the fence for 53 trying to close out the chase in a hurry, but Wriddhiman Saha hit the winning runs soon after, with 35 balls still remaining.