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The wheel's still in spin

This was a game that Sri Lanka could afford to lose, and they managed to do so after having held the inside line for much of a frenetic run chase. But for a fatigued shot from Sanath Jayasuriya which triggered off the ultimately decisive wobble, India would have been packing their bags five days early for the trip home. As it is, it's Pakistan who exit stage left, but not before they're subjected to an utterly meaningless outing against Bangladesh.

Jayasuriya's 130 - five of his 18 ODI centuries have come against India, and he averages 39.33 against them, as opposed to a career average of 32.21 - was a telling riposte to those that reckoned that his 35-year-old reflexes were too dull for the cut-and-thrust at the highest level. There were those who discounted his century against Bangladesh as a big bully beating up on the little kids, but if they were expecting him to be found out against the Indians, they were in for a nasty shock.

He started fairly circumspectly, but exploded like a Catherine Wheel in Zaheer Khan's fourth over. As Sourav Ganguly pointed out later, two good deliveries went for four, but the other boundaries reeked of the arrogance that is an inherent part of any champion's make-up. The two leg-side flicks that fell marginally short of the rope were disdainful shots, meant to put the bowler in his place, and reminiscent of Sachin Tendulkar's dismantling of Shoaib Akhtar at Centurion.

It helped, of course, that the match was played on a sluggish pitch, even slower once the lights came on. But it was still a remarkable innings, if only because no other Sri Lankan top-order batsman showed any sort of inclination to treat this as anything other than a glorified net. The one exception was Mahela Jayawardene, undone by one of the deliveries of the tournament from Sachin Tendulkar, who has a happy knack of doing a Warne now and then.

Jayasuriya found the ally he needed in Tillakaratne Dilshan, and even when that 103-run partnership was ended by Virender Sehwag, Sri Lanka needed just 35 from 37 deliveries. That they contrived to lose from there was the result of Indian desperation and Sri Lanka's own ineptitude, in equal parts.

India found their heroes in two men who have had forgettable tournaments. Sehwag bludgeoned a patchy 81 with a bizarre mixture of classy drives and grotesque hoicks. His partnership with Ganguly set the game up for India, but Jayasuriya's star turn meant that he would have to be a match-winner with the ball as well. For inspiration, he needed only to look back two years, when his golden arm won India a famous victory in the ICC Champions Trophy semi-final, after South Africa had appeared set to romp to victory.

The other cool finisher was Zaheer, at the receiving end of Jayasuriya's wrath earlier in the evening and a man with plenty of questions to answer about his fitness problems. That Ganguly threw the ball to him at the death was itself a statement of the team's belief in someone who was their top pace bowler until Irfan Pathan left everyone else trailing in his slipstream. Greater bowlers than Zaheer have choked in such a situation, but he showed commendable grit to keep Sri Lanka's shot-happy tail to just six in the final over.

Jayasuriya's innings may yet turn out to be one final starburst before the onset of darkness, while both Sehwag and Zaheer have to build on these positives strides. But there was a certainly a lesson out there today for all those writers and critics who prophesise with their pens. A certain Robert Zimmerman once sang, "Don't speak too soon, for the wheel's still in spin". At the Premadasa, it certainly turned for three men who needed to get out of a rut.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.