India produced another strong batting display to beat Sri Lanka by four wickets in the fourth one-day international at the Nehru stadium in Pune, on Thursday.
Electing to field, India bowled out the visitors for 261 and then chased the victory target in just 45.4 overs to take an unassailable 4-0 lead in the seven-match series.
Ajit Agarkar, who was named man of the match, claimed five wickets for 44 runs as Sri Lanka were bowled out for 261 in 49.5 overs after Marvan Atapattu played a responsible innings of 87 to guide the team out of trouble. He was ably supported by Tillekeratne Dilshan (52) and Russell Arnold (32).
Agarkar's 5 for 44 are the best bowling figures in a one-day international at Pune, beating Australia's Brad Williams' 5 for 53 against New Zealand in November 2003.
For India, captain Rahul Dravid again played a responsible innings of 63 to anchor the team in the middle overs. Mahendra Singh Dhoni (45 off 43 balls) and Suresh Raina (39 from 30 balls) then shared an unbeaten stand of 81 to take India home.
Sri Lanka innings:
It came as no surprise that Rahul Dravid elected to field after winning the toss, considering the record at Pune. In the 10 one-dayers played at the venue, eight were won by the team batting second.
Agarkar struck as early as the fourth over when he sent back the in-form Kumara Sangakkara for 8. The Mumbai speedster got the ball to swing in from the off-stump and the left-hander was trapped right in front of the wickets. (17-1, 3.1)
Dravid, at first slip, dropped the easiest of chances, when he let off Jayasuriya off Agarkar. The Sri Lankan left-hander, on 11, was beaten by a brilliant out-swinging delivery and the ball went straight to the Indian captain, who messed the easy offering; promptly Jayasuriya hit the next ball for a boundary, much to the bowler's disappointment.
But Jayasuriya could not stay long. Much to the relief of Dravid and the Indian team, four balls later, Agarkar trapped the left-hander leg before wicket. The Mumbai paceman's persistence paid off as Jayasuriya was found wanting for footwork against a full-pitched delivery. (36-2, 5.5)
S Sreesanth replaced Pathan in the ninth over and nearly took a wicket when Tillekeratne Dilshan lashed at a wide delivery outside the off-stump but was lucky not to get an edge.
But he struck in his next over when he got Upul Tharanga to pull a short delivery. The left-hander played some good shots off pitched up deliveries, but Sreesanth sent down a short delivery, surprising the batsman, who failed to control the pull shot and his top edge flew straight to Agarkar at fine leg. (51-3, 10.3)
Sri Lanka's inability to handle quality, swing bowling was once again evident. Next man in was the Sri Lankan captain, who surprisingly opted to bat at number five, choosing to send the inexperienced Tharanga and Dilshan above him.
Dilshan got back at the Indian bowlers, counter-attacking in style, hitting out at every possible opportunity. He contributed 33 from 41 balls, with seven boundaries, in the fifty-run partnership for the fourth wicket, off 52 balls, with Atapatttu as Sri Lanka reached 104 for 3 after 20 overs.
Dilshan was instrumental in Sri Lanka maintaining a healthy run rate of over five runs per over in the middle overs. He reached his half-century off 57 balls, with nine boundaries in the 27th over.
He fell in the 30th over in his attempt to take the attack to Harbhajan Singh. The right-hander tried to turn the ball on the leg-side, but he was beaten by the straighter one from the off-spinner, and the ball took the leading edge and went to Tendulkar at short third man. (148-4, 29.3)
Dilshan, who scored 52, added 97 runs for the fourth wicket with Atapattu to help Sri Lanka towards a decent total after the early loss of wickets, but his wicket came at the worst possible time for the visitors, whose hopes now rest on the struggling Atapattu.
The Sri Lankan captain finally shrugged off his batting woes with a battling half-century. His 54th half-century in ODIs took 67 balls and included four boundaries. It was his 10th against India and could prove to be one of the most important ones. It was now important for him to spearhead the innings till the end to ensure that they reached a respectable total.
Russel Arnold faced a struggle right from the onset and was all at sea against the spinners, particularly Harbhajan. He nearly fell to Virender Sehwag as Yuvraj Singh at short fine leg dived full length but failed to cling on to a difficult chance in the 39th over.
Harbhajan was once again magnificent for India as he bowled his quota of 10 overs, giving away just 35 runs and picking up one wicket. The off-spinner is looking at his best, taking six wickets in the four matches at 19.83, for a miserly economy rate of 3.24.
Sri Lanka reached 198 for 4 after 40 overs, with Atapattu looking good on 68, but at the other end Arnold was still struggling, scoring a painstaking 14 from 36 balls.
Pathan produced the best delivery of the innings when he got an in-swinging yorker to break through Arnold's defence. The left-hander hit a few boundaries in the end to lift his scoring rate, but his innings in general was a big struggle. Even though he added 80 runs for the fifth wicket, much of the contribution was made by Atapattu. (228-5, 44)
Fervez Maharoof did not last long as he missed a full toss from Agarkar and was bowled. The Sri Lankan all-rounder, who scored 5, tried to heave the delivery on the leg-side but failed to connect and the ball clipped the top of the stumps. (237-6, 45.4)
Part-timer Sehwag further compounded Sri Lanka's problems, when he took a brilliant return catch to send back Atapattu. The Sri Lankan captain, who was struggling for form in the first three matches of the series, finally came good with a hardworking innings of 87 off 100 balls, but it remained to be seen whether the remaining batsmen could take the team past the 275-run mark. (244-7, 46.3)
Wickets continued to tumble as Agarkar cleaned up Muttiah Muralitharan with another yorker. Muralitharan, who looked to slog everything, had no answer to the quick yorker and handed Agarkar his fourth wicket of the innings. (252-8, 48)
Two wickets fell in the final over as Sri Lanka were bundled out for 261. First, Nuwan Zoysa was run out by Agarkar after a misunderstanding with his partner Chaminda Vaas. (261-9, 49.4)
Vaas tried to hit a full-blooded shot but only ended in edging it behind to wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It gave Agarkar his fifth wicket of the innings. (261-10, 49.5)
Agarkar finished with 5 for 44 to record the best bowling figures in a one-day international at Pune, beating Australia's Brad Williams' 5 for 53 against New Zealand in November 2003.
Atapattu top scored with 87, but he lost his wicket at a crucial moment, in the 47th over. The Sri Lankan tail-enders could not capitalise in the final overs and ended up with 261 all out in 49.5 overs.
Agarkar kept bowling at an immaculate line and length, forcing the batsmen to commit mistakes time and again. He was solely responsible for India's brilliant performance with the ball as he started the damage by taking two wickets at the start of the innings.
Harbhajan again impressed, taking 1 for 35 in his 10 overs, while Sehwag also made a vital contribution, picking 1 for 36, as he bowled mostly in the end overs.
Sri Lanka also have four fast bowlers who could take advantage of the conditions at Pune, just like the Indian pace bowlers did. It will be important for them to contain the dangerous opening pair of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, who are in top form in the series.
Sri Lanka do not have happy memories of the venue, having played here three times before, and losing all three twice to India and once to England. They will be hoping for a reversal of fortunes this time, since their only hope of surviving in the series rest with this match.
At the crease were the two most dangerous batsmen in world cricket -- Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag -- but surprisingly the first two overs of the innings by Vaas and Fernando were maidens.
Just one run, courtesy off a no-ball, came in the third over from Vaas, as the crowd started getting impatient. However, Tendulkar broke the shackles in the next over, hitting Fernando for a boundary through the off-side; then followed a six that hit the edge of his bat and flew over the third man as he attempted to pull the delivery on the leg side.
In the fifth over, Sehwag, on 8, got a lucky break as Muralitharan dropped an easy running catch at long-on off Vaas.
The first big blow for India came in the form of Tendulkar, who was bowled by Vaas. The Indian opener played a shocking shot -- charging down the wicket in an attempt to hit the Sri Lankan pacer out of the stadium, but he failed to come close to the ball, which crashed into the stumps. (23-1, 6.2)
This was the ninth time that Vaas claimed Tendulkar's wicket in one-dayers, the most any bowler had.
For once the number 3 batsman's magic failed for India, as Yuvraj Singh failed to seize the opportunity of being promoted to the position and was out for 10. The left-hander tried to hit the ball through the off-side but his uppish drive was brilliantly held by Dilshan at backward point off the first ball of Zoysa's spell. (34-2, 8.1)
Lady luck seemed to be on Sehwag's side as the Indian opener enjoyed another reprieve when wicketkeeper Kumara Sangakkara failed to grab an easy chance. The dashing Indian opener lashed at a wide delivery from Zoysa and the edge flew to Sangakkara, who grassed it. That wicket could have well given Sri Lanka the upper hand, with the score on 53 for 2 in the 11th over and an inexperienced batting line-up to follow.
After a difficult start, India slowly started raising the tempo, with Sehwag starting to find his footing after a shaky start and Dravid looking solid as ever. India reached 81 for 2 after 15 overs, with Sehwag on 36 from 43 balls and Dravid on 18 from 20 balls.
The introduction of Muralitharan was delayed until the 20th over, but he struck after just five balls, getting Sehwag caught at first slip. The right-hander tried to guide the ball down to third man but it went straight to Arnold. (112-3, 19.5)
Sehwag, who scored 48 and added 78 runs for the third wicket with Dravid, did not make full use of the two chances. Instead, it could be said he gifted his wicket away.
Sri Lanka were now looking to exert some pressure on the inexperienced middle order, featuring youngsters like Venugopal Rao and M S Dhoni.
Skipper Dravid reached his half-century in the 27th over, his ninth against Sri Lanka, off 51 balls, with six boundaries. He was the calming influence out there in the middle as he and Rao set about building a big partnership. Their main focus was avoiding dot balls, taking singles off every ball and dispatching the bad deliveries.
Rao played a confident innings of 38, before edging the `doosra' from Muralitharan straight into Sangakkara's gloves. His 41-ball knock contained four boundaries and a six, adding 64 runs for the fourth wicket with Dravid. (176-4, 31).
He was unlucky to have lost his wicket at a time when he looked good for a big score. But it was Muralitharan's brilliance that brought about his downfall, bringing to the crease Dhoni, fresh from that blazing knock of 183 in the third match in Jaipur.
But Dilhara Fernando claimed the big wicket, when he got the in-form Dravid. The Indian captain, after a well-made 63, tried to pull a shorter one pitched outside the off-stump, but completely mistimed the shot and it went to Vaas at fine leg. (180-5, 34)
In the next over, India lost another wicket when Muralitharan got the edge of Irfan Pathan's bat to have him caught behind by wicketkeeper Sangakkara. (180-6, 34.3)
In the space of a couple of overs the match had taken a huge turn, after it seemed, at one stage, that India would comfortably cruise to the victory target. The fall of Rao, Dravid and Pathan in the space of five overs tilted the balance in the favour of the visitors.
However, youngsters Raina and Dhoni kept the scoreboard ticking with singles, twos and the odd boundary. The duo played intelligent, risk-free cricket and brought up their 50-run partnership for the seventh wicket in just 54 balls as India reached 238 for 6 after 44 overs, needing another 24 runs in six overs.
But they only needed ten more deliveries to complete the task, as Dhoni finished off the match in grand style, hitting two consecutive sixes off Arnold to take India home.
The 18-year-old Raina, playing in just his fifth match, was particularly impressive; he showed maturity in shot selection and even overshadowed Dhoni.
Dhoni was unstoppable in Jaipur during his record-breaking innings of 183, but today the 24-year-old shunned his flamboyance and opted for a more restrained approach in the interest of his team. He concentrated on playing for singles and twos, while Raina looked for the boundary time and again. The two batsmen also displayed some brilliant running between the wickets in their unbeaten stand of 82.
Dhoni finished unbeaten on 45 from 43 balls while Raina was not out on 39, as India reached the victory target of 262, with six wickets in hand and 26 balls to spare.
India won the match by a comfortable four-wicket margin to take an unassailable 4-0 lead in the seven-match series.
For Sri Lanka, ranked No. 2 in the world, it seems they have a hit huge wall; whatever they have thrown at the Indians has come back at them. Nothing is working, even their two best bowlers, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, failed to make an impression on the Indian batsmen, who are gaining in confidence with every innings.
With the series now gone, one hopes that Sri Lanka will be able to at least score a consolation victory to try and avoid the embarrassment of a whitewash.