At two wickets down for 31, chasing a target of 275 in a World Cup final, it all seemed to be headed in Sri Lanka's direction. In all ODIs since 2000, a first-innings total of 270 or more had been a winning score 394 times, while only 100 times had it been chased down. Add to that the pressures of the occasion - only twice in nine previous finals had the team batting second won a World Cup final, plus no side had ever lost their first wicket without a run on the board - and there was no doubt about which team held the whip at that stage.
That's when India's middle order stepped up, with a couple of stunning partnerships that completely turned the run-chase around. Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir's 83-run partnership consumed only 15.3 overs and resurrected India's innings, while the Gambhir-MS Dhoni stand more or less sealed the deal, adding an outstanding 109 off 19.4 overs to ensure the highest sucessful run-chase in a World Cup final.
The highlight of both those partnerships was the manner in which the batsmen soaked up the pressure, kept the risks to a minimum, and yet scored their runs at an excellent rate. In the third-wicket stand, Gambhir and Kohli scored only 32 out of 83 runs in fours and yet scored at 5.35 runs per over. Gambhir and Dhoni were even better, scoring 32 out of 109 in fours, yet achieving a run-rate of 5.54.
Going into this innings, Dhoni's performances with the bat had been disappointing, but there were no half-measures about the way he batted today. He showed, once again, his ability to excel in a run-chase: in 81 innings when he has batted second, Dhoni averaged 50.92, with 19 fifties and two hundreds. Among batsmen who've scored at least 2500 runs batting second, only Michael Bevan has a higher average.
Of the 91 runs he scored, more than half - 48 - came in the region between point and mid-off, several of them through back-foot punches off the spinners. Muttiah Muralitharan went for 22 off 22 balls, while Suraj Randiv conceded 14 off 15, as Dhoni repeatedly made room and played against the spin, carving the ball through cover and extra cover.
The other key contribution came from Gambhir, who clearly relishes playing Sri Lanka. Four of his nine ODI hundreds have come against them, and he almost made it a fifth with a superbly paced 97. One of the key tasks he accomplished was playing out Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga: 42 out of the 122 balls he faced were from them, and though he scored only 28 from those deliveries, he did his job by playing out a fair number.
Overall, there was little to choose between the Sri Lankan and Indian innings. India played seven fewer dots, but one of the impressive aspects of the Indian chase was the fact that they ran 24 twos, which shows the intent and aggression in the team during the chase.
The win meant that, for the first time in a World Cup final, a centurion ended up in the losing team. Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Aravinda de Silva, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist had all scored hundreds in winning causes, but Mahela Jayawardene's sublime 103 not out wasn't enough to seal the win for Sri Lanka. None of that was Jayawardene's fault, though, as he crafted a magnificent knock, scoring at at least a run a ball against each of the Indian bowlers. Zaheer Khan, so incisive in his opening spell, was taken apart by Jayawardene, who scored 23 from 14 balls off Zaheer.
The flawless manner in which Jayawardene batted made it look as if he was batting on another pitch. A comparison of his innings' stats with those of the other Sri Lankan batsmen illustrate the gulf: Jayawardene didn't score off less than 32% of the deliveries he faced; for the rest of his team, that percentage was more than 56.
This was also the first of Jayawardene's 14 ODI hundreds which ended in defeat. Considering how classy the knock was, it probably deserved a better result.