Everything seems to be falling into place

Team India... convincing win in the end.-K.R. DEEPAK

For the most part of the innings India advanced at over six an over; indeed it appeared in desperate pursuit of a far more imposing figure than 260, writes Vijay Parthasarathy.

India's top-order collaborated efficiently and ensured a feel-good seven-wicket win for the host against Sri Lanka in the final one-dayer of the Hero Honda Cup played at the ACA-VDCA Stadium in Vizag. India thus won the series 2-1. The first match of the series was abandoned due to rain.

This was a relay sprint performance of the first quality. Robin Uthappa got India off the blocks, chasing 260, with a spanking 37-ball fifty. And even if he stumbled after a poor shot, Sehwag snatched the baton and despite being in poor form, managed to maintain the momentum without doing anything spectacular or foolish. The much-maligned opener made 46 before he made his first mistake, caught ambling and stranded millimetres short of the bowler's crease by a throw from alert wicketkeeper Kumara Sangakkara. His horror run has forced Sehwag to cut out the slashes, and here he was by his standards acutely circumspect.

Sourav Ganguly, dizzy and cramping, still got another fifty — his fourth since his return, his resurgence confirmed with a Man-of-the-Series cheque — while Yuvraj Singh made it a no-contest at the finish. Of the many fine match-winning knocks that Yuvraj has played, none were as timely as this one. Any concerns regarding his form and fitness ahead of next month's World Cup were exploded as the left-hander made 95 off 83 balls, an innings that included three sixes and 11 fours. Yuvraj was involved in an unbroken stand of 145 with Ganguly for the fourth wicket. The result reduced Sri Lankan middle-order batsman Chamara Silva's run-a-ball 107 to a statistical irrelevancy.

Yuvraj began with a six over square-leg and picked up speed on a wicket of even bounce exceedingly suited to strokeplay. Particularly savage towards the seamers, he flicked Fernando over square-leg for a six and reached 50 with the shot of the match, a cover drive that blended elegant footwork with power. The winning runs were not scored, they were plundered. Yuvraj stroked four fours and a six and took 22 from Maharoof's sixth over, the game's last.

Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh were involved in an unbroken century partnership. Ganguly was later declared the Man of the Series.-PTI

Yuvraj's return to form is timely. The squad leaves for the West Indies next week in fairly good shape. The batting order appears to have gained depth and looks more assured, particularly lower down where Mahendra Singh Dhoni is an equally capable finisher. Almost every batsman clicked in the series and the top-order fired, for once, in Vizag.

For the most part of the innings India advanced at over six an over; indeed it appeared in desperate pursuit of a far more imposing figure than 260.

In contrast, Sri Lanka hobbled for nearly 35 overs before Silva cut loose with a mix of authentic cricketing shots and improvisation. This was the 27-year-old's first century, in only his 14th game. The islanders salvaged a tenuous position and posted 259 for seven — not enough to guarantee victory, nevertheless 50 more than they might have dared to hope for during the middle overs. The last 10 overs produced 91 runs, the last five 54.

As has happened throughout this series, the Lankan innings suffered more than one puncture. Wet outfield conditions delayed the start by an hour and reduced this game to a 47-overs-a-side affair. Poor footwork and ambitious shotmaking proved the undoing of the top-order again, after Dravid sought to exploit favourable conditions. Jayasuriya threatened to break away for the second time in this series, but Sri Lanka then lost four wickets for 14 runs and was reduced to 56 for four.

Three successive partnerships, capitalising mainly on Harbhajan's wayward leg-stump line, staved off the Indians. The revival commenced through a 68-run partnership between Silva — who made two centuries for Sri Lanka `A' in Duleep Trophy matches last season — and Tillekeratne Dilshan. Harbhajan's third over went for 17, as Silva swept him first and then stepped out and tonked him for a six and a four. Ganguly plugged the scoring at one end and removed Dilshan, but Russell Arnold kept things going.

Chamara Silva came up with a superb century for Sri Lanka.-K.R. DEEPAK

Silva, by now sweeping the slow bowlers assuredly and dismissing full tosses from Agarkar, added 64 with the big-hitting Maharoof in eight overs, to steal some of the momentum back for his team. A knock such as this is usually cut short in the 60s but Silva, entirely to his credit, stayed until the last ball.

The Indian batting order did well, in the end, to surmount the psychological disadvantage, and complete its second consecutive chase.

Where Irfan Pathan fits in the equation is the one major remaining problem for India. The left-arm swing bowler has recovered from his shoulder injury but didn't get a single match in the series; he has hardly played this past season and India is as good as fielding a 14-man squad for the World Cup.

That raises as a corollary, the issue of the fifth bowler's quota, which will need to be shared between Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and, perhaps, Sourav Ganguly — with neither of the frontline spinners, Harbhajan Singh or Anil Kumble, in particularly good form, how much the trio gives away in the middle overs will prove crucial.

THE SCORES

Fourth ODI, Visakhapatnam, February 17, 2007. India won by seven wickets.

Sri Lanka: M. Atapattu b Sreesanth 19; S. Jayasuriya c Ganguly b Agarkar 22; M. Jayawardene c Uthappa b Agarkar 7; K. Sangakkara c Uthappa b Zaheer 1; C. Silva (not out) 107; T. Dilshan c Uthappa b Ganguly 28; R. Arnold c Sreesanth b Sehwag 22; F. Maharoof c Karthik b Zaheer 28; M. Bandara (not out) 5; Extras (b-1, lb-2, w-14, nb-3) 20. Total (for seven wkts in 47 overs) 259.

Fall of wkts: 1-42, 2-50, 3-52, 4-56, 5-124, 6-165, 7-229.

India bowling: Zaheer 10-2-54-2; Agarkar 10-1-52-2; Sreesanth 8-1-46-1; Harbhajan 9-0-48-0; Ganguly 6-0-29-1; Sehwag 4-0-27-1.

India: V. Sehwag (run out) 46; S. Ganguly (not out) 58; R. Uthappa c Jayasuriya b Maharoof 52; D. Karthik c & b Fernando 1; Yuvraj Singh (not out) 95; Extras (lb-2, w-8, nb-1) 11. Total (for three wkts in 41 overs) 263.

Fall of wkts: 0-6* (Ganguly, retired not out), 1-92, 2-106, 3-118.

Sri Lanka bowling: Maharoof 6-0-60-1; Malinga 9-1-54-0; Fernando 9-1-56-1; Bandara 4-0-37-0; Dilshan 9-0-34-0; Jayasuriya 2-0-10-0; Arnold 2-0-10-0.