India 294 for 7 (Gambhir 88, Tiwary 65, Dhoni 58, Malinga 3-64) beat Sri Lanka 274 (Thirimanne 77, Mendis 72, Irfan 5-61) by 20 runs
It was a low-key series that was overshadowed by the Olympics, but it resulted in a dramatic change in the rankings as India climbed up to No. 2 after shutting out Sri Lanka 4-1. India seemed to have the final one-dayer in the bag after running up 294 and then reducing Sri Lanka to 102 for 5, but a spirited stand between the inexperienced Lahiru Thirimanne and Jeevan Mendis kept the visitors sweating till the end.
Irfan Pathan more or less guaranteed the result in the 43rd over as he removed Mendis and Thisara Perera on his way to his second ODI five-for, capping a match in which he had already made an important contribution with the bat. A late replacement for the injured Vinay Kumar, Irfan has sealed his place as a bowling allrounder with his eight wickets at 26.37 and two vital performances with the bat.
He troubled Sri Lanka in his first over itself, getting Tillakaratne Dilshan to hole out to third man. In the absence of the injured Kumar Sangakkara and the resting Mahela Jayawardene – the first time in two years that the pair were missing an ODI – Dilshan had a big role to play, but fell for a duck.
Sri Lanka maintained a scorching pace early on, but lost their way once Upul Tharanga chipped a catch to cover in the eighth over. Dinesh Chandimal’s forgettable series continued as he fell lbw to Ashok Dinda for 8, Angelo Mathews’ first innings as one-day captain was ended by a direct hit from Manoj Tiwary, and Chamara Kapugedera wasted his umpteenth international comeback, walking after an lbw appeal.
That looked like game, set and match India but Sri Lanka weren’t done yet. Thirimanne played his second responsible knock at No. 3 in five days, and Jeevan Mendis continued to prompt questions over why he had been offered such scattered opportunities with the national team so far after another battling innings. The two patiently resurrected the innings, and through some sensible cricket brought Sri Lanka back into the game, and when the part-time spin of Manoj Tiwary was caned for 14 in the 34th over, Sri Lanka were 187 for 5. With the big-hitting Perera still to come, they had a great chance of pulling off a consolation comeback victory.
Thirimanne, though, was run-out after a mix-up, and though Mendis kept Sri Lanka afloat, Perera slugged a catch to deep point. When Mendis’ outstanding innings ended on 72 with a nick to the keeper off Irfan, Sri Lanka’s hopes evaporated.
India’s top order gave a better account of themselves than Sri Lanka’s. There were half-centuries for Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni but the most significant innings in the dead rubber could be Manoj Tiwary’s 65. For the second match in a row, he turned in a solid performance, strengthening his credentials for a hotly contested spot in the India’s middle-order, most likely at the expense of Rohit Sharma.
Rohit, given a remarkably long rope by the team management, flopped for the fifth game in a row; his tally of 13 runs in the series is the lowest by a specialist India batsman in a five-match series and the chorus for his axing is only going to get louder.
Tiwary’s debut was famously delayed by a shoulder injury in 2007, and he has had seven ODIs in the five years since. A match-winning century in another dead rubber last December only led to a long spell on the bench, but a four-for with some part-time leg spin in the previous match and a steadying 110-run partnership with Gambhir should earn him a few matches in the upcoming New Zealand series at home.
For the second time in three games, Malinga began an over in the batting Powerplay with two wickets in two balls, as he removed Tiwary and then the in-form Suresh Raina as India slid to 197 for 5. But, as in the third ODI, Irfan showed off his improved batting, and gave the specialist batsman enough of the strike to take apart the Sri Lanka bowling. That day it had been Raina, today it was Dhoni, who has had little to do in this series as players above him in the order have repeatedly done the job for the side. Dhoni began by carving Malinga for consecutive boundaries through cover and a typically busy innings, interspersed with boundaries, helped India take 75 off the final 10 overs.
While Dhoni piloted India at the end, Gambhir did it at the start. Even as Ajinkya Rahane failed to grab his chance, Virat Kohli had a rare failure and Rohit’s horror run extended, Gambhir was unperturbed. Once again, he managed to score at almost a run a ball without seeming to play any big hits as he made his way to his third fifty-plus score of the series. He was closing in on his seventh ODI hundred against Sri Lanka before he was done in by the extra bounce from Senanayake.
It didn’t matter, though as Irfan and Dhoni powered India to a big score, one which proved too tall for an inexperienced Sri Lanka line-up.