Irfan Pathan [ Images ] didn't have to look too far for motivation.A noisy crowd turned up to watch their local hero play his first match on home ground, and Pathan responded with a special performance. He scalped three wickets and slammed 35 runs in 23 balls to help India [ Images ] to a five-wicket victory over Sri Lanka [ Images ] in the seventh and final ODI of the series in Baroda on Saturday.
India thus signed off the series, which has seen them achieve new peaks in collective performance, on a high, winning it by a 6-1 margin.
Pathan also earned the man of the match award for his all-round effort.
Starting with stormy knocks from Virender Sehwag [ Images ] (35) and Pathan, India chased down the target of 245 in 39.3 overs with five wickets to spare.
The latter half of the Indian innings was powered by another brilliant performance from their wicket-keeper batsman, Mahendra Singh Dhoni [ Images ]. After starting off steadily, Dhoni hammered the nails in the Sri Lankan coffin with an innings of 80 from 73 balls, including nine fours and three sixes.
The 24-year-old is the new flavour of the season and his carefree strokeplay and big-match temperament earned him the man of the series award.
Earlier in the day, R P Singh and Pathan helped India restrict Sri Lanka to 244 for nine in their 50 overs.
A 133-run partnership between Marvan Atapattu [ Images ] (59) and Russel Arnold [ Images ] (68) gave Sri Lanka a respectable score, after they were reduced to 85 for 5. But with the Indian batting in knockout form, the runs were never going to prove enough.
Sri Lanka innings:
Sri Lanka's decision to bat on a surface that assisted the fast bowlers early on looked like blowing up in the face as they lost two quick wickets.
The visitors, who have struggled to get solid starts, threw in the inexperienced Upul Tharanga and makeshift opener Thilan Samaraweera [ Images ], also playing his first match of the series, into the ring. With Ajit Agarkar [ Images ] coming back into the side for the final ODI, the Indian opening bowling attack had the edge of experience.
Irfan Pathan, playing the first game at his home ground, started with a maiden and struck in his second over with the wicket of left-handed Tharanga.
He hit the good length on middle and leg and made the ball swing away from Tharanga; the batsman swished it and the thick edge carried comfortably to Rahul Dravid [ Images ] at first slip. (11-1)
Despite Pathan being in the spotlight in front of his home crowd, it was Agarkar, who bowled with greater control in the morning conditions. Agarkar made the ball move just enough to put the batsmen in doubt.
Samaraweera, looking tentative after being thrust with the opening job, fell to the Mumbai [ Images ] bowler on six. The ball rose up after pitching on length, and Tharanga, trying to turn away the ball, was beaten by the bounce and ended up giving catching practice to Harbhajan Singh [ Images ] at square leg. (20-2).
Though Kumara Sangakkara fuelled the scoring rate with occasional boundaries, the Sri Lankans, having got to a shaky start, hardly kept up the pace. Mahela Jayawardene [ Images ] looked uneasy to the challenge ahead and was kept under check by the Indian pacers.
The Sri Lankan vice-captain, who got married during the series, shared a 57-run stand for the third wicket with Sangakkara but the runs came in a trickle. Jayawardene's edgy innings came to a soft end as R P Singh had him caught at short mid-wicket on 20 from 49 balls. (77-3).
R P Singh impressed once again with his bowling, though he lacked the consistency shown in Rajkot. But once he tasted success, the Uttar Pradesh [ Images ] youngster bowled with greater accuracy. He was rewarded immediately with the crucial wickets of Sangakkara (32) and Tillekaratne Dilshan (4).
Sri Lanka's wicket-keeper batsman played an uncharacteristic innings, looking to keep one end safe. Jayawardene's tentative run at the crease during their partnership seemed to have sapped his attacking intent. After starting out with some innovative shots, Sangakkara faded off in the latter part of his innings and was out to a poor shot off RP Singh [ Images ].
The ball stopped on the wicket after pitching short and Sangakkara was early into the pull; the ball ballooned overhead before falling into the safe hands of Yuvraj Singh [ Images ]. (81-4).
Four balls later, R P Singh had Dilshan caught behind on four. (85-5).
The left-arm seamer was unlucky as umpire Hariharan [ Images ] turned down a confident caught behind appeal against Marvan Atapattu with the innings score on 105. The bowler had the ball move away from the batsman far too much, but Atapattu had a go at it and the ball kissed the tip of the bat, but the umpire thought otherwise and awarded Sri Lanka a wide.
Though the Indians had leashed the Lankan batting with tight bowling, the visitors looked weighed down by their defeats earlier in the series. Trying to make up for the impetuosity in the previous matches, the Lankans worked too hard to keep the wickets intact and put themselves under pressure to defend.
The result was that the scoring rate, even after the powerplays, failed to touch four runs per over.
Russel Arnold broke the monotony when he stepped down the wicket to Murali Karthik and hoisted him over the long-on boundary for a six in the 35th over. It was the first sign of life from the Lankan batsmen in a long time.
With Arnold doing his best to shake off Sri Lanka from the dormancy, Atapattu too was infused with confidence. He danced down the track and drove the ball over extra-cover into the fence to register his first four on the 42nd delivery he faced. He followed it up with two sweeps to the boundary to Murali Karthik in the next over.
The overs from 30-40 were profitable for Sri Lanka as they scored 59 runs without losing a wicket. The Indian spinners, who had controlled the game in the middle overs in this series, were not effective in Baroda, where the wicket dried out into an easy batting track.
At 164 for five after 40 overs, Sri Lanka looked good to put up a late fight.
After a lazy start the Sri Lankan batsmen started improvising, eyeing the gaps and just placing the ball between fielders. The ball normally ran down the fast outfield to the fence when it had enough pace on it. The Indian spinners were losing direction, and the Lankans used the sweep shot effectively for some quick runs on the board.
Arnold put up 100 runs of the partnership in 108 balls with a huge heave over long-on for six off Virender Sehwag. Sri Lanka completed 200 runs in the 45th over, the last fifty runs coming off 38 balls.
With the Sri Lankans on a roll, Rahul Dravid tossed the ball to Irfan. The roar from the crowd when Pathan was brought back went on undisturbed for two more deliveries. The local boy had risen to the occasion and stemmed the Sri Lankan late surge with the wickets of Atapattu (59) and Arnold (68) off consecutive deliveries. (218-7).
The fast bowlers were again turning it around for India; Agarkar struck a blow in the very next over. Dilhara Lokuhettige failed to connect with a full-toss from Agarkar, which crashed onto his stumps. (227-8).
When Arnold and Atapattu were batting, the visitors looked poised to cross the 250-mark comfortably but the late wickets saw them finish at 244 for nine. Chaminda Vaas [ Images ] fell on the last ball of the innings, when the attempted pull off Karthik landed into Yuvraj's hands at deep mid-wicket.
Though it was a competitive target, swelled by the partnership between Arnold and Atapattu, the Sri Lankans may find it difficult to derail the in-form Indian line-up, on a pitch conducive to batting.
India, in contrast to their disciplined effort in Rajkot, gave away 29 extras in the innings.
After trying different opening combinations, and being successful at them, India returned to their best -- Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar-- to give Sri Lanka a thumping farewell.
Sehwag took charge right away, sending the second ball he faced to the fence. As the Sri Lankans struggled to get their line right, the Najafgarh opener tonked them around the park, playing some ruthless drives and pulls on his way to 35 from 24 balls, which included six boundaries. Dilhara Fernando particularly suffered at the hands of Sehwag, conceding 19 runs from 10 balls.
But the bowler had some respite, when Sehwag, going for another drive, snicked the ball to the wicket-keeper. (53-1).
The Indian vice-captain has thrown away all the good starts in the series, and just when he looked like overcoming that disappointed once again.
Irfan Pathan, who replaced Sehwag, didn't bring any good news for Sri Lanka. If Sehwag was dealing in boundaries, Pathan gunned down the big ones. He belted the ball over the ropes twice before he reached a personal score of 20, while Tendulkar settled for a sedate start.
The master batsman's fantastic comeback has been diluted a little by the spirit of the Indian young guns. On Saturday, Pathan stole the batting focus from him as he blasted away the Sri Lankan bowling and was a runaway leader in the partnership with Tendulkar.
Pathan was particularly severe on the on-side, where he scored 27 runs (including three boundaries and two sixes) in the arc between square-leg and long-on. The Baroda batsman provided a lot of cheer to the home crowd, following up his three-wicket haul with the ball, with a breezy innings of 35 from 23 balls.
It took a great catching effort from Mahela Jayawardene, who came in from long-on to take the skier. The ball shot up in the air when Pathan went for another wild pull. (109-2)
India didn't want to let the pressure off after racing to hundred in the 13th over, and sent in Mahendra Singh Dhoni at two wickets down. Through the series, India has preferred having a hitter and a steady batsman at a time to balance things out.
But, surprisingly, it was Tendulkar took over the mantle and unwrapped a wide array of strokes. That Tendulkar was in good nick was evident as he picked up Chaminda Vaas from outside off stump and turned the face of the bat for a cheeky four past fine-leg. Tendulkar also drove effortlessly through the off-side, picking 22 runs, including five boundaries.
It was a day of pretty sprints for the Indian top-order. Like the first two Indian batsmen, Tendulkar too fell in his thirties to a slower ball, which has been the nemesis of most batsmen in this series.
Nuwan Zoysa readily accepted the leading edge from Tendulkar, with the Mumbai batsmen on 39, as India closed the 15-over mark on 115 for three.
After getting such a roaring start, all India needed to do was to keep their heads and knock off the remaining 130 runs from 35 overs, at a pedestrian run-rate of 3.7.
The scoring rate dipped a little after Tendulkar's dismissal, with neither Dhoni nor Mohammed Kaif looking to rush things.
As in the fourth match in Pune, Dhoni again showed that he had the temperament to play steady and accumulate runs when needed. He played well with Kaif, more of a busy player, to notch a partnership of 42-runs. The stand was cut short as Dilhara Lokuhettige had Kaif bowled for 13. (157-4).
Without Muralitharan [ Images ], the Sri Lankan bowling in the middle-overs was toothless. The fast bowlers had failed to make early inroads into the Indian batting and the spinners were always used to choke the scoring rather than as wicket-taking weapons.
India scored 53 runs in the ten overs between the 15 and 25 at the loss of one wicket. The third fifty had taken the most number of balls - 60, but it hardly hampered India's chances of cantering to a victory.
Apart from a hook for six off Fernando, Dhoni wasn't exactly whipping the bowlers and yet managed to keep his strike rate at more than a run-a-ball, and brought up his fifty in 44 balls.
India captain Rahul Dravid was the silent foil, giving his wicketkeeper batsman most of the strike.
Once his fifty was up, Dhoni batted more freely. He took on the spinners with ferocity, smashing Dilshan and Chandana out of the park once each.
But with five runs left to chase, the Jharkhand batsman was out trying to finish the match with a big hit.
Chandana tossed the ball up, and Dhoni stepped across to make room and hit it high. But it didn't have enough distance to carry over the long-off fielder, and Samaraweera came under it to take a neat catch. (240-5).
Dravid knocked off the winning runs with a drive down to the long-off boundary, his only four of the innings. Yuvraj Singh was unbeaten on zero as India romped home by five wickets and 11.3 overs to spare.
The Sri Lankan score, as expected, proved too small to defend and none of the bowlers looked like giving the Indian batsmen a tough time.
For India, it was one of the most comprehensive displays and all the batsmen fired at the right time after the bowlers had made their task easy by restricting Sri Lanka to 244 for nine.