The outcome of all the six league matches in the tri-series was all but clear at the halfway stage. The final was expected to break the trend. Sadly, it was not to be.
Once Sri Lanka had piled on 299 for eight, despite the ‘Viru good’ factor lurking, even the meagre India supporters at the packed Dambulla Stadium knew a target of 300 was a tad too much.
Some of them thought they would see a repeat of the Asia Cup league clash against Pakistan at the same venue two month ago when India successfully chased 268 with a penultimate-ball six. But, lighting doesn’t strike twice, does it? Even with an additional batsman in place of Ravindra Jadeja at No. 7 — Rohit Sharma — India knew the onus was on one man to stretch the match into the dying stages, if not winning the trophy.
Sehwag started nagging the Sri Lankans right away despite losing Dinesh Karthik, who was unfortunate to be given out caught behind down the leg side when the ball clearly hit his thigh pad on way to Kumar Sangakkara’s gloves.
But much before losing Karthik on the last ball of the opening hour, Sehwag had hinted that he was in for his third big knock of the tournament with two sweetly timed boundaries — through covers and point — off Lasith Malinga.
But the Delhi player’s stay at the wicket came to a bizarre end in the sixth over. Nuwan Kulasekara brought one in from outside the off stump to gape through Sehwag’s defence and then let out a huge appeal for lbw. Sehwag knew he had been undone, so he took off for a single to deviate umpire Asoka de Silva’s attention off the lbw shout. Though he succeeded, but by the time he turned back, Chamara Kapugedera had dislodged the bails with a direct hit.
Once Sehwag perished, the writing was on the wall. Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina got starts, but even before they could think of launching into attack mode, all of them, barring Dhoni, had played a foul stroke.
And by the time MS Dhoni, who prolonged the inevitable by blocking a better part of the last eight overs, played Suraj Randiv on to his stumps to concede a 74-run victory, the stands had plenty of empty seats.
However, none of the spectators moved an inch from their seats in the afternoon when Tillakaratne Dilshan’s eighth century anchored Sri Lanka to the tournament’s highest total.
In a tournament where the top-order has hardly fired, all the captains have been reiterating the importance of “seeing off the new ball”.
For the first time, an opening pair executed the plan perfectly as Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardene stitched together the tournament’s maiden century stand.
With Dilshan walloping all of India’s four seamers, Jayawardene could afford to focus on singles. But since Dilshan was at his best — cutting and driving through the off-side fiercely — by the time Jayawardene mistimed a flick off Ishant Sharma to perish in the 21st over, the openers had added 121 runs.