It's knocks like these that make Yuvraj Singh [ Images ] a difficult man to do away with.
The left-hander announced his return to form with an emphatic innings of 79 runs off 67 balls to help India romp to a seven-wicket victory over Sri Lanka [ Images ] in the sixth ODI of the series at the Madhavrao Scindia [ Images ] ground in Rajkot on Wednesday.
India gunned down the target of 197 in 34.5 overs to take a 5-1 lead in the seven-match series.
The Indian innings kick-started with a lively knock of 28 from Gautam Gambhir [ Images ], but after India lost their way in the middle, Yuvraj and Moahmmed Kaif (38*) scored a 105-run partnership to see the team home comfortably.
Earlier, after Virender Sehwag [ Images ] put Sri Lanka in to bat, left-arm seamer R P Singh, who was named man of the match, excelled in challenging bowling conditions to grab four wickets for 35 and help India bowl the visitors out for 196 in 42.5 overs.
For Sri Lanka, Tillekaratne Dilshan was the only batsman to have the measure of the Indian bowlers as he punched his way through to 59 from 60 balls. Upul Chandana (30) supported him briefly, but the effort was not enough for them to narrow the series scoreline.
Sri Lanka innings:
After winning the toss and electing to field, Virender Sehwag made an interesting observation: flat track, smaller ground, fast outfield; even a 300-plus score can be chased.
The way Sri Lanka began, they seemed well on their way to give India a stern test.
Sanath Jayasuriya [ Images ] opened his account by cracking three boundaries off Sreesanth [ Images ] in the second over past point. Two overs later, his partner, Upul Tharanga, handed out the same treatment to Irfan Pathan.
Each of the Indian opening bowlers conceded 18 runs from their first three overs as Sri Lanka raced to 36 in six overs. Sreesanth, especially, was guilty of bowling too far wide of the off-stump, giving the Sri Lankan left-handed openers enough room to swing their arms.
But a tactical change brought about the breakthrough for India. Sreesanth came round the wicket; the ball, pitched outside off-stump, moved in slightly with the angle to take a faint inside edge from Jayasuriya to the wicketkeeper. (44-1)
The former Sri Lanka captain disappointed again, failing to capitalize on a roaring start, and was out for 19. Jayasuriya has scored only 85 runs in six innings in the series.
Kumara Sangakkara, coming one down today, didn't last long either. The Indians had brought down the run-rate after Jayasuriya's wicket, and Sangakkara was out trying to pull Pathan. He got a top edge on the delivery, which rose sharply, and handed out a skier to Sachin Tendulkar, who came in from mid-on. (56-2).
Sehwag then provided look at his innovative captaincy, when he sealed the area from backward point to cover with four fielders. More importantly, the fielders were aligned along the curve of the 30-yard-circle.
The move was well-supported by his bowler, R P Singh. The left-arm seamer fed Tharanga on the off-side, but the batsman couldn't get it past the four-man cordon. Singh then dug one in at shorter length and closer to the off-stump.
Tharanga (28) was surprised with the bounce and jarred at the ball. It carried safely into Dhoni's [ Images ] hands, and Sri Lanka had thrown away a good start, slumping from 33 for no loss to 57 for three after 12 overs.
Left-arm spinner Murali Karthik was introduced in the 16th over with the powerplay still on. Karthik responded to Sehwag's confidence by getting the wicket of Jayawardene on his very first delivery.
Karthik drew the batsman out with a well-flighted delivery; Jayawardene failed to connect and dragged his foot out of the crease. Dhoni was quick to grab the ball and whip off the bails. (79-4).
Captain Atapattu fell in the next over. R P Singh kept the ball up to Atapattu in the over and then jammed him with a slower one; the batsman's feet went nowhere as he turned the ball to mid-on, straight to Sehwag. (83-5).
R P Singh, who leashed the Lankans with an outstanding spell of two for 19 in five overs, gave way to Harbhajan Singh in the 21st over and the hosts were able to further strangle the scoring rate with spinners at both ends.
It was again left to Sunday's heroes -- Tillekaratne Dilshan and Russell Arnold -- to mend the damage.
The way they began their task, it looked like there would be another busy day in the field for the Indians. Dilshan went for the boundaries, though he struggled against the off-spinner, while Arnold tired to grind out the runs. The pair also picked some quick singles and twos.
But their eagerness proved fatal as India's best fielder, Mohammed Kaif, shrugged off any injury concerns and make his presence felt.
Dilshan played the ball to cover and set off for the run; Kaif dashed in and threw the ball low into Dhoni's waiting gloves. The wicketkeeper completed the run-out to end the sixth-wicket partnership at 35 runs, with a contribution of eight from Arnold.
Chaminda Vaas [ Images ], promoted in the order ahead of Upul Chandana, didn't help the visitors' cause, as he was bowled by Karthik. Vaas tried to tap the ball on the off-side, but the ball rolled on to his pads and bounced back on the stumps. (132-7).
Despite losing two quick wickets at the other end Dilshan carried on with intent. He was not bogged down by the Indian spinners and after the initial hesitation stepped out to them. He charged down the wicket to Harbhajan to hit a boundary, his eighth of the innings, and bring up his fifty.
India's energy in the field once again proved crucial, as Yuvraj Singh brought down the bails with a direct hit at the bowler's end from point to dismiss the dangerous Dilshan. The right-hander had given the total some respectability with his spirited knock of 59 from 63 balls, but Sri Lanka were still a long way from posting a total that could challenge the strong Indian batting line-up (161-8)
With Suresh Raina [ Images ] at backward point, Yuvraj at point and Kaif at cover, the Indian field looked impenetrable square on the off-side. The home side's fielding has been a revelation in the series and in Rajkot, even lesser fielders like Harbhajan and Pathan brought up incredible saves.
R P Singh impressed with his accuracy in the second spell as well, bowling round the wicket this time, and was rewarded with the last two wickets as Sri Lanka were bowled out for 196 in 42.5 overs.
He had Farveez Maharoof, coming in as substitute for Nuwan Zoysa, caught by Mohammed Kaif at cover for four. (182-9)
Chandana, who was trying to keep the fight going with a well-composed 30 from 32 balls, was the last man out. R P Singh had him bowled with a full-length delivery that moved in slightly to uproot the leg-stump.
By bowling Sri Lanka out inside 50 overs, the team justified fielding five bowlers in the game. R P Singh, with figures of four for 35 in 8.5 overs, stood out in India's disciplined performance with the ball, where they gave away only three extras.
The spinners, Harbhajan and Karthik, also stuck to a tight length and grabbed the game from Sri Lanka in the middle-overs.
India's batting resumed with the third opening combination of the series -- Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar.
The left-hander, riding on a confidence wave from his brilliant innings of 103 in Ahmedabad [ Images ], was quickly into his stride, while the master batsman watched on cautiously from the other end. Gambhir also hogged most of the strike, but looked in such cracking form that Tendulkar was all right being a spectator.
The Delhi [ Images ] opener panned the bowlers through the off-side, and when they tried to intimidate him with the shorter one, he pulled merrily. He tackled the Sri Lankan bowlers intelligently, as he stood out of the crease to Chaminda Vaas to reduce any seam movement, but stayed back to Dilhara Fernando as he bowled a shorter length.
In his brief stint with the Indian team, Gambhir has shown to be an all-round batsman, strong on either side of the wicket.
Dilhara Fernando, who had narrowly missed claiming Gambhir's wicket twice before, cut short the lively knock to 28, striking on the third attempt. Gambhir attempted to flat-bat the bowler square on the off-side, but played it onto his stumps. Fernando had changed the angle by coming round the wicket. (43-1).
Tendulkar tried to maintain the tempo after Gambhir's exit, slamming three boundaries off Vaas, but the aggression was short-lived. He was out trying to loft Fernando over mid-on. But the slower ball claimed one more victim, as Tendulkar rushed into the shot and holed it to Maharoof at mid-on. (57-2).
The short 35-run partnership between Virender Sehwag and Mohammed Kaif was decorated with seven fours. Sehwag doesn't believe in working hard for the runs and had some confusion in running between the wickets with Kaif, always keen on a cheeky run.
While the Sri Lankan innings folded quickly, except for the odd ball stopping, there were no demons in the pitch. The Indians stroked the ball comfortably and had a plethora of boundaries as the visiting pacemen struggled for assistance from the placid pitch.
Sanath Jayasuriya was given the ball for an over to break the momentum but he was taken for 10 runs, five each, by the batsmen.
Sri Lanka's utility man Upul Chandana broke the bliss with the wicket of Sehwag. The Indian captain tried to turn down the ball on the leg-side but a leading edge popped into the hands of Dilshan at short extra-cover. (92-3).
At three wickets down, India were in a tricky situation, with their two-in from batsmen and captain back in the pavilion. Yuvraj Singh has had a poor series and Mohammed Kaif was returning to the side after an injury lay-off.
But the pair put their heads down and went about the job without any fuss.
Yuvraj was back with the punch that had set him apart from the other batsmen when he started out in the team. The left-hander, put under pressure to perform by the budding talent in the Indian middle-order, slammed his way through the batting woes.
Kaif, with his busy play, provided the perfect foil for Yuvraj. The right-hander picked the gaps and gave Yuvraj maximum strike.
Yuvraj's dominance was evident as he scored 79 runs in the 105-run unbeaten partnership.
The spinners -- Dilshan and Chandana -- were treated with disrespect by the 24-year-old Punjab [ Images ] batsman. After setting himself up for the kill with powerful punches to the boundary, he stepped down to Dilshan and lofted the ball over the long-on fence to bring up his fifty in style. He then hoisted Chandana in the same area for six.
With the game in the pocket, Yuvraj accelerated dramatically, taking on the pacemen with aplomb.
Fittingly, he brought up the Indian victory with a four down to long-on. The stark feature of Yuvraj's 67-ball innings was that 44 of his 79 runs came in the `V'. He generally gets his runs square on either side of the wicket, but Yuvraj played with a straighter bat and cooler head to coast India to victory.
Kaif played a subdued innings, where he faced more deliveries that Yuvraj (71) but returned with 38 against his name and didn't score a single boundary since the left-hander came out to bat.
The Indian batsmen walked out arm-in-arm, relieved to post a convincing victory in the penultimate game of the series after Sri Lanka threatened a comeback in Ahmedabad.