Mahela Jayawardene and Upul Chandana staged a remarkable comeback to help Sri Lanka to a four-wicket victory over India in the fourth league match of the IndianOil Cup at the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium on Wednesday.
After being reduced to 96 for five, Jayawardene and Chandana shared an unbeaten stand of 126 runs from 134 balls to chase down the target of 221 with two overs to spare.
Jayawardene also won the man of the match for┬áhis effort.
India had put up a competitive score of 220 for eight in their 50 overs, mainly because of the late surge of Irfan Pathan (36, 28b).
India brought in Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Laxmipathy Balaji in place of Yuvraj Singh, Y Venugopal Rao and Zaheer Khan for the match.
Off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan had been rested for the match, giving way to seamer Pradeep Jayaprakashdaran who was making his debut for Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka have now won all their matches in the tri-series and also took a bonus point off West Indies on Tuesday night.
Former skipper Sourav Ganguly, back in the team after serving the ICC-imposed four-match ban, regained his position at the top of the order after captain Rahul Dravid won the toss and elected to bat.
Virender Sehwag thus walked out with his third opening partner in three matches.
Both the Indian batsmen have been going through a lean patch in one-day international cricket this season and took their time at the crease to settle down.
Although Sri Lankan quickie Fervez Maharoof was not as precise against India as he was against the West Indies on Tuesday night, he still tied down the Indian openers. The Sri Lankans had done their homework. Maharoof attacked Ganguly outside the off-stump and made him drive to a packed offside field.
Sehwag, who seems a bit out of touch, continued his hit and miss act against the 21-year-old Maharoof and was lucky to have been dropped when on four and nine. On both occasions, Sehwag slashed hard, away from his body, with the ball flying past wicketkeeper Kumara Sangakkara first and then eluding Mahela Jayawardene at first slip.
The exertion of bowling two long spells on consecutive days was telling on Maharoof as he started to fade out after the fifth over. His partner Dilhara Lokuhettige also looked blunt compared to how he had fared in the first two matches of the tournament.
Debutant Pradeep Jayaprakashdaran got Sri Lanka the breakthrough with the wicket of Sehwag. He had the Indian batsman bowled on 32. (67-1).
VVS Laxman, also making a comeback in the ODI side, survived a strong appeal of caught behind off Dilhara Fernando when he was still to open his account.
Ganguly, meanwhile, took a quick single to cover to bring up 10,000 runs in one-day cricket. With the burden of the milestone removed, the left-hander played with a lot more conviction. He was ready to come down the track against the spinners and haul them over mid-wicket and long-on.
The Indian batsmen looked over cautious despite the fact that Sri Lanka did not have the option of Muttiah Muralitharan in the game. Tillekaratne Dilshan and Upul Chandana took on the mantle from the Sri Lanka's most lethal bowler.
Laxman, playing an unusually defensive knock, kept Ganguly company as the runs came in a trickle. The two managed 50 runs in 88 balls, as neither was ready to take the fight to the opposition.
Ganguly had 76 dot balls to his name, while Laxman failed to score on 24 out of the 43 balls he faced.
The middle-order gave in to the pressure building up, as five wickets went in quick succession.
The slide started with the Laxman's wicket. Dilshan, who was flighting the ball well, turned the ball in a long way after it pitched on the off stump. Laxman tried to drive and the ball crashed onto his stumps. (117-2)
Ganguly, who was starting to find his touch, was then bowled by Chandana on 51. The off-spinner drew Ganguly on the front foot and bowled him through the gate. (127-3).
The Indian middle-order underwent a revamp again as Laxman was promoted to three, Mahendra Singh Dhoni walked in before Dravid and Mohammed Kaif and Suresh Raina were demoted to number six and seven.
Dravid was out lbw off Dilshan on the first ball he faced. (128-4).
Wicketkeeper batsman Dhoni tried to restore things with a quick 20, but was caught and bowled by Dilshan off a sharp chance (157-5) and was followed soon after by youngster Raina, who was dismissed in a similar fashion. (161-6).
Reeling under the loss of wickets, India managed just 15 runs from the 40th to the 45th over.
But Irfan Pathan stepped up to produce a blistering knock of 36 from 28 balls and take the Indian score comfortably past 200. The left-hander went for the big hits despite losing Kaif (34, 194-7) and Harbhajan Singh (4, 207-8).
He played proper cricketing shots and used the pace of Fernando and Maharoof to guide the ball through the off-side.
The penultimate over by Fernando cost Sri Lanka 17 runs, 13 of which came from Pathan's bat. The Baroda player, fast gaining a reputation as a potential all-rounder, hit three boundaries in the over. The first one came as Pathan drove down to long-off and a misfield from Chandana saw the ball roll down to the fence.
He then smashed the ball through cover and wrapped the last over from Fernando with a four through point.
Nine runs came off the last over as India ended the innings on 220.
Sri Lanka innings:
After putting up a brave performance with the bat, Pathan struck in the first over of the innings with the wicket of youngster Upul Tharanga.
Sanath Jayasuriya had not yet recuperated from the shoulder injury he received during the first game against India on Saturday.
Tharanga, only into his second international match, was caught behind after smashing the earlier delivery past point for a boundary. He tried to slash the ball to point; the ball took the edge into the wicketkeeper's glove. Tharanga started to walk even before the umpire had given him out. (4-1).
Pathan was keeping the pressure up at one end, but Balaji looked rusty returning to international cricket after four months.
Sri Lanka was once again relying on captain Marvan Atapattu and Kumara Sangakkara to consolidate their position.
However Sangakkara was adjudged lbw when on 16. The ball pitched marginally outside the leg-stump and was moving further down but Tyron Wijewardene upheld Balaji's appeal. Sangakkara did himself disservice by playing the ball across the line and leaning in front of the stumps. (36-2).
Mahela Jayawardene started with a boundary to Balaji and looked in an attacking mood. Sri Lanka had only progressed to 56 for two in 15 overs and the required run rate had started to mount.
Jayawardene was given a life on nine by Harbhajan Singh as he missed an easy run-out chance.
Meanwhile, Dravid continued with the attacking field for Ashish Nehra and Sourav Ganguly as well. After a back injury, Ganguly had tended to underbowl himself while he was the captain of India. But with Dravid at the helm he was used effectively while the ball was still hard and seaming.
Uttar Pradesh teammates Suresh Raina and Mohammed Kaif patrolled off-side efficiently; Raina underlining his importance in the field with a quick throw to dismiss Atapattu. Jayawardene steered the ball to gully and called for the single. Raina got in the throw quickly and Dhoni completed the run-out. (78-3).
Nehra then got the wickets of Dilshan and Russell Arnold in consecutive overs. He angled the ball away from Dilshan and induced an edge to the keeper (88-4) and then struck Arnold in front of middle and leg. (94-5).
Harbhajan had Lokuhettige caught behind to reduce the hosts to 96 for 5.
Then began the Sri Lankan resurgence. The Indian spinners were unable to assert pressure on the calculating Jayawardene and Chandana. The two experienced heads analysed the situation, the required run rate was still less than run a ball, and picking up the gaps would just do fine.
The batsmen were also decisive in calling and running between the wickets.
Harbhajan and Sehwag failed to tie them down and bowled too far down the leg-side to give the Sri Lankan some free runs. Despite Raina, and then Yuvraj, guarding short fine leg, the runs were there for the picking.
The fact was reflected in the wagon wheels of the batsmen. Jaywardene picked up 25 runs in the arc between fine leg and square leg, and 52 behind the wicket, while Chandana registered 21 of his 44 runs in that area.
By the 35th over, the fight had started returning in the match. The 37th over, first of Pathan's second spell, brought the hosts right back in contention. It wasn't just the ten runs he gave away but the ease with which they took on one of India's better bowlers.
When the bowlers did not err on the leg-stump they were short and wide on the off.
After taking the early wickets, India had once again let the match slip away from them. India missed the fifth bowler sorely. Nehra, India's best bowler on show, finished his overs in an unchanged 10-over spell, and India looked out of options at the death.
Jayawardene brought up his 22nd one-day 50 in 74 balls and hoisted Sehwag over the long-off fence to bring up the 100-run partnership.
Jayawardene also brought up his highest ODI score in four years by smashing 94 runs in 114 balls. He hit the ball square over backward point and scrambled back for two runs to bring Sri Lanka home in 48 overs.
Chandana, whose busy innings helped Jayawardene settle in, remained unbeaten on 44.
Uncannily for India, the Sri Lankan lower order had stood up to be counted for the second consecutive time in the tournament.