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Sri Lanka reserved their best performance of the Coca-Cola Cup until the end and cheered on by an animated capacity crowd, they crushed India by 121 runs in the final played tonight at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.
India had looked the form side after three consecutive victories, but they once again failed at the final hurdle. Amazingly, for such a talented side, this is the eighth ODI final they have lost in succession.
Sri Lanka though extended an impressive run in One-Day cricket. They have now won their last four triangular tournaments and have not lost a One-Day tournament or series at home for over three years.
Dav Whatmore was delighted: "The Sri Lanka team saved the best till last in this tournament. Recently, in the biggest games, we have played our best cricket." Sourav Ganguly didn't hide his disappointment: "We didn't play well in any department of the game and we were never really in the game when we batted. We have been giving away too many runs in the final."
He identified Zaheer Khan's dropped catch off Jayasuriya as a key moment: "Jayasuriya is a very good player and he seems to win crucial games against us. I think the catch we dropped was very crucial."
In fact, Sri Lanka never looked like losing this match after captain Sanath Jayasuriya won an important toss in the afternoon - of the seven matches played at this ground in this tournament, only one was won by the side chasing - and elected to bat first.
So far, in this tournament, the Sri Lankan batting had failed to perform cohesively, with fine individual performances papering over mini collapses, especially in the middle order. This afternoon, however, they fired on all cylinders, with five out of the top six batsmen making significant scores.
With half centuries from Jayasuriya, who was cruelly dismissed for 99, Mahela Jayawardene and Russel Arnold, plus useful cameos from Romesh Kaluwitharana and Avishka Gunawardene, they scored 295 for five, the highest score in the tournament by far and the sixth largest ever at this ground.
To win, India had to rewrite the history books - the highest ever score successfully chased at Premadasa was the 243 target overhauled by India back in 1998. They also had to have a start like they had done at the Sinhalese Sports Club on Thursday when Virender Shewag had flogged a 69-ball century.
Shewag (4) though never got a chance to get going, as he was run out by a direct hit by Arnold, backing up too far in just the second over of the innings. Indian captain Sourav Ganguly (1) was dismissed next ball, as he cut straight to backward point - for not the first time in the series. India were five for two with their backs firmly against the wall.
Rahul Dravid (21), the highest scoring Indian batsmen in the series with 259 runs, and VVS Laxman (37) kept Indian hopes alive for a little while as they added 56 runs off 70 balls before Dravid played on to his stumps in the 14th over and Laxman clipped a catch to mid wicket off Kumar Dharmasena in the 20th.
They were never likely to recover, especially with Muttiah Muralitharan still having a full quota of overs to bowl, and didn't, as wickets fell steadily.
Arnold squeezed a delivery under the bat of Yuvraj Singh (6); Hemang Badani (22) was run out after a mix up with Ritender Sodhi (6); Sodhi was bowled as he tried to loft Muralitharan into the top tier; and Harbhajan Singh (15) was caught bat pad.
Sameer Dighe (23) batted stubbornly with Zaheer Khan (16), adding 33 runs in nine overs, but by then it was just a face saving exercise and they were eventually bowled out for 174.
Earlier, the Sri Lankan batsmen had appeared to be inspired by a highly charged partisan atmosphere. Jayasuriya and Gunwardene (31) set the tone with 71 runs off 65 balls.
Ganguly was forced to turn to Harbhajan Singh in just the ninth over as Zaheer Khan's first four overs cost 30 runs. The off spinner immediately slowed down the scoring and trapped Gunawardene leg before wicket - so plumb that he actually walked.
When Marvan Atapattu (5) drove a short delivery from Shewag lamely to Ganguly at short cover the Indian players may have sensed another Sri Lankan middle order slump.
Jayawardene (57) though gave his captain, who needed a runner after suffering from leg cramps, good support and the pair added 104 in 20 overs.
With the crowd all poised to celebrate another exciting Jayasuriya century the left-hander pushed a simple catch straight to Ganguly at mid-wicket. Jayawardene was dismissed soon after as he optimistically tried to reverse sweep Harbhajan Singh, by far the best Indian bowler. The Sri Lankan innings appeared to be faltering. After 40 overs they had scored 219 and with Russel Arnold (52) and Romesh Kaluwitharana (31*) initially struggling to time the ball, only a reasonable target appeared likely.
But Arnold and Kaluwitharana suddenly went into overdrive and, whipping the crowd into a frenzy, they smashed 60 runs from the final six overs to post a total that was never likely to be eclipsed with Sachin Tendulkar not playing.