Consolidation doesn’t mean what it once did. Time was when the loss of early wickets meant a period of working the ball around to get the innings back on track. Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag worked it around all right, but interspersed with plenty of hits to the rope, as Sri Lanka wilted in the face of a run barrage at the Premadasa Stadium. By the time Muttiah Muralitharan joined Wasim Akram on 502 one-day wickets, a world record, the duo had added 221 from just 27.5 overs. The batsmen who followed couldn’t quite find the same momentum, but it didn’t matter much, with the 50 overs realising a staggering 363 runs. If Sri Lanka were to keep the series alive under lights, they needed to pull off the sort of run chase that the island had never witnessed.
After being reduced to 24 for 2, it was Yuvraj who cornered most of the strike, stroking some magnificent boundaries on either side of the wicket. Too often, the bowlers strayed on to the pads and he was more than happy to work them fine or swat them contemptuously over midwicket. There was much for the purist to admire too though, with lovely shots laced through cover and backward point.
Sehwag was a spectator in the early part of the partnership, but when the opportunity presented itself, he was no less ruthless. Nuwan Kulasekara was taken for three successive fours, after which he enjoyed his first moment of good fortune. A slower ball struck Sehwag initially on the pad in front of middle stump, but the proximity of the bat to the pad and the subsequent contact fooled the umpire.
Not that Sri Lanka made their own luck either. Farveez Maharoof made tardy progress when Yuvraj miscued Ajantha Mendis over midwicket, and Dilhara Fernando then palmed a tough chance over the rope when Sehwag, then on 45, lifted the same bowler over wide long-on. Sanath Jayasuriya was the next culprit, grassing a routine caught-and-bowled chance with Sehwag on 72.
You just don’t give such batsmen such reprieves. It took Yuvraj only 82 balls to score his 11th one-day century. It took Sehwag seven deliveries less. By then, they were dismissing the bowling at will. It didn’t matter if it was Murali or Mendis, or Fernando with the slower ball. The ball kept disappearing over the infield or into the gaps, and some appalling fielding, epitomised by Mendis letting one through his legs, didn’t help.
Yuvraj finally departed after making 117 from 95 balls, but there was no real zest to Murali’s celebration. Sehwag left not long after, for 116 [90 balls] when Jayasuriya threw the stumps down from mid-off. By then, the scoreboard showed 265, and there were still 15.1 overs to be bowled. Yusuf Pathan clouted three mighty sixes down the ground on his way to a 33-ball half-century, and though Mahendra Singh Dhoni was initially circumspect, the damage had already been done.
India would argue that they were due some good fortune. Sachin Tendulkar, who had thumped an enormous six off a free hit, was unlucky to be given out leg-before for the third time in the series. The Fernando delivery was slanting down the leg side, but the umpire decided otherwise, leaving Tendulkar with 18 runs after three matches.
Gautam Gambhir, dropped before he had scored by Thilina Kandamby at point, was then run out after backing up too far. Again, Fernando’s luck was in, with Sehwag’s firm straight drive just brushing his fingertips before colliding with the stumps.
It wouldn’t halt India’s momentum though, against pace and spin alike. They took 50 off the bowling Powerplay and 43 from the batting one, and a mammoth total gradually took shape, against a Sri Lankan side that bore no resemblance whatsoever to the one that was once so formidable on home turf.