Mahendra Singh Dhoni rang in the changes and on a St Lucia pitch that was flatter than even the strips used in the Indian Premier League, India's batsmen harvested a rich crop of runs. The fast outfield and shorter boundaries injected life into an Indian line-up that was twice caught out in Barbados.
Ravindra Jadeja made way for Piyush Chawla, Dinesh Karthik replaced statemate M. Vijay and R Vinay Kumar made his India debut as Zaheer Khan sat out, presumably because of injury.
Karthik and Gambhir set the tone early, batting with the confidence that the conditions had effectively taken the edge off the fast bowlers. It was Gambhir who got going, even as Karthik closed the face of his bat early and presented Lasith Malinga with a simple return catch.
Sri Lanka, who were without Ajantha Mendis, soon switched from wicket-taking to damage-control mode, but there was little they could do as Suresh Raina and Gambhir began to open up and play shots when the ball was there to be hit. Gambhir was well on the way to looking like his old self when, on 41, he attempted to glide Malinga down to third man and nicked to the keeper.
Dhoni pushed himself up the order, arriving at the crease ahead of Yuvraj Singh and watched Raina go past 50 for the second time in the tournament. The crowds continued to disappoint, staying away despite the game starting at 1pm. As the sea breeze begin to set in, the ground began to fill and noise levels began to increase. A steel band hammering away incessantly at one end kept the Indian, Sri Lankan and occasional Trinidad flag waving.
For the second time in the game, however, just when India looked to floor the accelerator, a wicket fell. Raina, who had been reprieved on 47 when Kumar Sangakkara missed a stumping off Suraj Randiv, holed out to midwicket. The 48-run third-wicket partnership and Raina's dismissal set the stage for Yuvraj to come and do his thing. But the first clout Yuvraj attempted, with the wind and through the leg side, carried perfectly to Mahela Jayawardene on the fence.
Dhoni, controlling the pace of the innings but unable to rattle off the big hits with anything approaching regularity, shepherded India to 163 for 5. While not massive, it was the kind of score that Dhoni frequently refers to as “par-plus”.
Having made changes to the side, some forced and some for reasons of form, Dhoni had finally reverted to batting first. A key reason why India did so was also the fact that they needed to win by at least 20 runs to stay in the hunt for a semifinal spot. Batting first and putting a big total on the board gave them the best chance of doing so.