Scorecard | Match pictures
PORT OF SPAIN: It was bitter deja-vu for Sri Lanka as MS Dhoni almost single-handedly denied them the Tri-Nations Cup with an innings of spectacular calmness and aggression on Thursday evening.
A sequence of implosions on either side all came down to Dhoni, arguably the best finisher in the modern game, facing Shaminda Eranga's last over of the match with India needing 15 to win. Eranga had bowled superbly throughout the game and Lanka were just one wicket away from what would have been a hard-earned title.
But the nerveless Dhoni, who missed the previous matches due to a hamstring injury, had other plans. And all they took were three deliveries: a monster hit that clattered onto the roof, a slash over point for four, and another savage hit over extra-cover for six. India's captain cool had done it again with an unbeaten 45 in acute crisis, guiding his team to victory after they had lost six wickets for 43 runs during a disturbing phase of play.
India's one-wicket win was only the second occasion of this slender margin of victory in an ODI competition final involving three or more teams. The previous occasion was in Pakistan's famous verdict over India at Sharjah - the site of Javed Miandad's legendary last-ball six off Chetan Sharma.
It was a match of collapses. Sent in by India, Sri Lanka disintegrated to 201 all out from a strong 171/2, thanks to the combined firepower or Ravindra Jadeja (4/23) and R. Ashwin (2/42). India matched their rivals at the game of toppling over. They looked assured of an easy win on 139/3, needing just 63 in almost 20 overs, when Rangana Herath destroyed them with his left-arm spin.
Herath removed the well-set and determined Rohit Sharma (58) with a dirt-kisser that almost rolled onto the middle stump. He then claimed Jadeja and Ashwin off consecutive deliveries, sending alarm bells ringing in the Indian camp.
Things looked even graver because India had lost the breezy Suresh Raina to his own folly a little earlier. That left skipper Dhoni alone with the tail to get the 50-odd for victory. Bhuvneshwar Kumar faced 15 balls without scoring before Lasith Malinga speared a yorker onto his pads for India’s 8th wicket.
It looked all over when R. Vinay Kumar, who had replaced Umesh Yadav for the final, lasted 16 balls before yielding to temptation, leaving India nine wickets down. Dhoni, however, was up to the big moment, having seen his team through way bigger moments in what is already one of the most awe-inspiring ODI careers of all time.
The chase began with a stutter. Shikhar Dhawan, so central to India’s beginnings these days, was snared for 16 by an Eranga ball that rose ominously on him and rested in Sangakkara’s gloves behind the wicket. Two overs later the same bowler and fieldsman featured in Virat Kohli’s dismissal for 2, sinking India to 27/2 in the 11th over.
As he has all this series, Rohit played a holding role, seeing out the rough times and switching gears later. He partnered Dinesh Karthik for 50 runs – the alliance ending when Karthik perished trying to hit Herath out of the park.
Rohit top-edged Malinga for six early in his knock, but gained control as he went along. A glorious cover drive and a pull off Malinga brought him a half-century and it was his wicket that triggered India’s slip into disaster.
Lanka had earlier suffered from an astonishing collapse of their own as they lost eight wickets for just 30 runs to be bundled out for 201. On a pitch that had a little something for bowlers of all types, only Sangakkara (71) and Thirimanne (46) stood out with the bat.
Expectedly it was swing bowler Bhuvnshwar’s early strikes that got things moving for India. The youngster saw off the backs of openers Upul Tharanga and Mahela Jayawardene: the former done in on the inside edge for Dhoni to take a smart catch down the legside; Jayawardene, in his 400th ODI, brain-freezing into slashing a wide delivery to slip.
The men in form, Sangakkara and Thirimanne, brought in a semblance of control through a 122-run alliance for the third wicket. Their time, however, was helped in no little measure by an untidy India in the field.
Ashwin, having recently made the position his own, dropped Thirimanne at slip when the batsman had scored 2. Dhoni then inexplicably chose to deploy part-timers Kohli and Raina, whose nine overs in total allowed the new batsmen to settle in.
Even the introduction of spin failed to make an impact – at least early on. Sangakkara looked especially dangerous as he turned it on with a spate of hits against Ishant Sharma in the batting Powerplay. But in the same over, Thirimanne was caught on an attempted slog. Sangakkara followed suit against Ashwin a couple of overs later.
Thus began an unimpeded slide as batsmen went on a spree of irresponsible hoicks. Jadeja was the biggest gainer with four wickets and was responsible for two of Dhoni’s three stumpings on the afternoon. None of Lanka's last six batsmen reached double figures. With Dhoni up to his tricks, it wouldn't have mattered anyway.