Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Midas touch as ODI captain continued as India won their first-ever bilateral ODI series in Sri Lanka. Dhoni’s luck at the toss continued as he won his fourth on the trot, and it was an important one too.
But beyond that it was not a matter of luck, but hard work and smart cricket that won India the game by 46 runs to give them an unbeatable 3-1 lead with one match to play.
India played to the perfect script for ODIs in Sri Lanka, following the basic principle of putting runs on the board and then bringing the spinners into the game as the pitch began to take turn. Gautam Gambhir protected his wicket well, and with Virat Kohli playing a few shots, India got off to a strong start. Sri Lanka made their first breakthrough with the score on 44 when Gambhir attempted to accelerate and slashed one to point.
Yuvraj Singh, a shaky starter at the best of times, lasted only six balls before becoming Chaminda Vaas’s 400th ODI wicket. At 51 for 2, India were wobbling and were in danger of squandering a solid start.
Kohli, whipping the ball through midwicket with confidence, motored to his first ODI half-century, and you can't be too hard on the young man for falling soon after. On 56, he dragged Thilan Thushara back onto his stumps.
Suresh Raina and Dhoni then came together and summarily dismissed any notions of a Sri Lankan renaissance. These two seem to combine well, and a feature of their stand was the incessant poaching of ones and twos. Both were constantly looking to drop the ball into the gaps and inevitably the response from the non-striker was spot on.
Even as the pair tired, straining to keep up the tempo in hot and humid conditions, the big shots were unfurled. Raina took on Muttiah Muralitharan and timed the ball sweetly into the stands over midwicket. Dhoni favoured the cut, rocking back and lacing the ball behind square, but was also brutal in punching the ball through cover.
The way Dhoni and Raina were going, having added 143 for the fourth wicket, India were well on track to 300. But Raina (76) chanced his arm one time too many and hit Thushara straight down long-off's throat. Only 8 runs later Sanath Jayasuriya latched on to a smart catch at short cover, and Dhoni was gone on 71.
With the two set batsmen being dismissed, Sri Lanka roared back into the game. The new batsmen found the going tough and India lost their last seven wickets for 33 runs. Thushara ended with career-best figures of 5 for 47 as India were bowled out for 258.
Buoyed by their strong comeback with the ball, Sri Lanka looked to push on with the bat, Jayasuriya leading the charge. Munaf Patel prised out the important wickets of Malinda Warnapura and Kumar Sangakkara, but at the other end Jayasuriya breathed fire, carving the ball repeatedly over the infield. But Harbhajan Singh removed him with a ripping offbreak that was well caught by Raina at slip.
When Jayawardene and Chamara Kapugedara were involved in a mix up that sent the Sri Lankan captain back with 106 on the board, India took a vice-like grip on the match. Thushara struck a few lusty blows to make 40, but it was too little too late. Harbhajan (3/40) and Yuvraj (2/53) had done enough to keep Sri Lanka down to 212 and give India the win.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Subramaniam Badrinath, Praveen Kumar, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel.
Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Kumar Sangakkara, Sanath Jayasuriya, Malinda Warnapura, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chamara Kapugedara, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Thilan Thushara, Nuwan Kulasekara.
Umpires: Billy Doctrove (WIS) and Gamini Silva (SRI)
TV umpire: Tyron Wijewardene (SRI)
Match referee: Chris Broad (ENG)