Mahendra Singh Dhoni registered the best ever score by a wicketkeeper in one-day internationals as India cruised to a comfortable six-wicket victory over Sri Lanka in the third one-day international in Jaipur on Monday.
Even though they were chasing a huge Sri Lankan total of 298 for 4, India hardly faced any problems as Dhoni paved the way with an unbeaten 183 off 145 balls, inclusive of 15 boundaries and 10 sixes.
In the end it turned out to be a contest between the wicketkeepers of both sides. Dhoni provided the perfect response to Sangakkara's 138 not out earlier on as India cruised home with 23 balls to spare. The full house at the Sawai Mansingh stadium was treated to some delightful shot-making all through the Indian innings from the mighty blade of the 24-year-old Indian wicketkeeper.
Virender Sehwag, 39, and captain Rahul Dravid, 28, gave Dhoni good support, as India crusied home despite the early loss of Sachin Tendulkar for 2.
For Sri Lanka, Muttiah Muralitharan emerged the best bowler, taking two wickets for 46 runs in his 10 overs.
Sri Lanka innings:
Sri Lanka captain Marvan Atapattu won the toss for the first time in three matches and had no hesitation in electing to bat.
India retained the team that won the first two one-day internationals, in Nagpur and Mohali. Suresh Raina was picked as Supersub, while S Sreesanth was excluded from the 12.
For Sri Lanka, all-rounder Thilan Samarweera took the place of left-arm pacer Nuwan Zoysa. Upal Chandana was named the Supersub for the visitors.
Ajit Agarkar struck the first blow for India in the sixth over, when Jayasuriya played on to his stumps. The left-hander, looking to cut a short delivery, inside edged it on his stumps and was dismissed for 15. (31-1, 5.5)
Jayasuriya, who is nursing an elbow injury that prevents him from bowling, has now scored 42 runs in the three ODIs at 14.00. Clearly disappointing returns from his mighty blade, but Sri Lanka will be hoping that he comes back to blazing form before India run away with the series. He also survived a close chance in the third over off Irfan Pathan, when Murali Kartik, at mid-off, failed to hold on to a difficult chance.
The early loss of Jayasuriya did not affect the Sri Lankan run rate, which reached 51 for 1 after 10 overs, with Kumara Sangakkara once again looking dangerous on 26.
The second wicket came in the form of Atapattu, who, just like the previous match, was caught behind while fishing at a wide delivery outside the off-stump. On 17, he edged behind to wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni off medium pacer J P Yadav. (77-2, 20.1)
He put on 46 for the second wicket with Sangakkara, but the majority of the contribution came from the left-hander's bat.
Atapattu too has failed to find his footing the series, having scored just 20 runs in three matches. His lack of form has to be proved one of the big factors behind Sri Lanka's batting woes in the series.
Sangakkara was holding steady at the other end on 47 as Sri Lanka reached 100 for 2 in the 25th over, scoring at just over four runs per over. The run rate took a sharp dip as the second fifty took 89 balls in the face of some good, tight bowling by Harbhajan Singh and Yadav.
Sangakkara reached his half-century off 79 balls with boundaries. This was his 24 half-century in one-day internationals and his fifth against India. He is the only Sri Lankan batsman who has so far looked in some control during his stay at the wicket in the three matches.
Mahela Jayawardene realised the need to lift the scoring and started taking a few risks as he played some unorthodox shots. He was lucky to escape a stumping chance off Kartik as Dhoni messed up an easy chance in the 33rd over.
Virender Sehwag was brought into the attack in the 36th over and he nearly struck, but captain Rahul Dravid floored an easy offering at mid-wicket off Jayawardene. The batsman continued his free-flowing knock, reaching his half-century off 56 balls with seven boundaries. This was his eighth half-century against India, but it was proving to be the most vital one.
He brought up the 100-run partnership for the third wicket in 107 balls with Sangakkara, who kept going steadily at the other end. Sri Lanka reached 194 for 2 in 40 overs -- the two batsmen had added 77 runs in the last 10 overs -- after they were struggling at 117 for 2 after 30 overs.
Sangakkara did not throw away his good start and made sure he held up the innings at one end, while his partners took some risks at the other. The left-hander brought up his fourth ODI century with a neatly flicked shot to square leg in the 42nd over off Agarkar. He reached the milestone, his first against India, in 123 balls, hitting eight boundaries and two sixes.
Jayawardene, who made a blazing 71, was dismissed when he sliced a shorter one from Agarkar straight to Harbhajan at third man. (228-3, 43.4)
His 70-ball knock, which contained nine boundaries, gave Sri Lanka a realistic hope of posting a score in excess of 275. The right-hander put on a brilliant 151-run partnership for the third wicket with Sangakkara to provide a solid platform for a huge total. It was now left to the remaining Sri Lankan batsmen to provide the final flourish and ensure that they finished the innings on a high note.
Part time bowler Virender Sehwag struck in the 46th over, when he claimed the wicket of Tillekeratne Dilshan.
Sehwag, making up for the fifth bowler, caught Dilshan in front of the wickets with a well-pitched up delivery, which the batsman tried to sweep, but failed to connect, although television replays suggested the ball could have missed the leg stump. (240-4, 45.4)
Ferveez Maharoof played a few lusty blows in the end. He and Sangakkara added 58 runs for the fifth wicket in just 28 balls to tear apart the Indian bowling in the final overs.
Maharoof was unbeaten on 33 from 16 balls, hitting four boundaries and a six. His promotion really made the difference as it ensured that Sri Lanka posted a mammoth total of 298 for 4.
At one stage it looked as if they would finish around the 275-run mark.
Sangakkara carried his bat through the innings, remaining unbeaten on 138 from 147 balls, including 13 boundaries and two sixes. The most impressive part of his batting was the way he adapted at different times of the innings. For the first part he was quite solid; then gradually blossomed in the company of Jayawardene before being quite unstoppable in the final overs.
Sri Lanka scored 94 runs in the last 10 overs, losing only two wickets in the process. In fact, after 30 overs they were crawling at 117-2, but they really raised the rate, scoring 181 runs in the next 20 overs to finish with the highest total in a one-day international at Jaipur.
Also read: 'It's in my nature to be aggressive'
Before this innings, the highest score at Jaipur was 278 for 9, scored by Pakistan against India in 1998-99, which the visitors had won by 142 runs.
For India, Harbhajan Singh was most impressive, bowling his 10 overs for 30, though he was went wicketless, but his disciplined bowling helped restrict the Sri Lankans in the middle overs.
Though Agarkar was the most successful bowler for India, taking two wickets, even he was taken for runs as he gave away 62 runs in his 10 overs.
Yadav took 1 for 53 in his nine overs and Pathan finally hit a roadblock in the series, conceding 67 runs in his 10 overs.
The fifth bowler's quota, bowled by Kartik, Tendulkar and Sehwag, proved very costly as they were thrashed around for 81 runs in 11 overs, while bagging just one wicket.
For India, it will be vital to get away to a good start. Sachin Tendulkar has looked supreme in the series, scoring 160 runs in two matches and India will hope he continues his blazing run. Sehwag will also need to post a big score and ensure that there is not much pressure on the lower order against Muttiah Muralitharan & Co.
Sehwag got off the innings to a flying start, hitting a boundary off the first ball from Chaminda Vaas. But the Sri Lankan pacer struck with the fifth ball of the over, claiming the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar.
Tendulkar, who had scored 2, was dismissed to a brilliant diving catch by wicketkeeper Kumara Sangakkara after trying to slash at a wide, out-swinging delivery from left-arm pacer Vaas. (7-1, 0.5 overs)
Hard-hitting batsman Dhoni was promoted to number three after the early loss of Tendulkar to take advantage of the fielding restrictions.
Sri Lanka were stunned by Pathan's sudden promotion to number three at Nagpur, and it seemed Dhoni's promotion here also caught them unawares. The Indian wicketkeeper punished the Sri Lankan bowlers immediately, carting three huge sixes on the off-side, with the bowlers drifting slightly wide of the stumps.
India reached 75 for 1 after 10 overs and it seemed the assault by Sehwag (28 from 23 balls) and Dhoni (44 from 35 balls) had made up for the early dismissal of Tendulkar.
Dhoni raced to his half-century off 40 balls, with six boundaries and 3 sixes, in the 12th over. His third ODI half-century came in his customary, attacking fashion, lofting Vaas straight back over his head to the long-off fence.
As expected, Sri Lanka opted not to use the second Powerplay after 10 overs to try and frustrate the batsmen.
Dhoni and Sehwag played intelligently for a few overs before Muttiah Muralitharan struck. Muralitharan dismissed Sehwag leg before wicket as he tried to sweep the off-spinner. Sehwag did not seem to have read the `doosra' from the champion off-spinner as the ball seemed to pitch on leg stump and straighten a bit. (99-2, 14.5)
Sehwag, who made 39 from 37 balls, put on a quickfire partnership of 92 for the second wicket with Dhoni.
The fall of Sehwag didn't bother Dhoni, who continued his attacking brand of cricket in the second Powerplay, which Sri Lanka took in the 16th over. India reached 148 for 2 after 20 overs, with Dhoni unbeaten on 92 from 70 balls.
The Jharkhand wicketkeeper reached his second ODI century off just 84 balls, with 10 boundaries and 5 sixes in the 25th over as India posted 169 for 2 by the halfway mark.
His previous century was an aggressive 148 off 123 balls against Pakistan as India posted a massive 356-9 to win by 58 runs in April this year.
The third Powerplay was taken at the end of 27 overs with India comfortably placed on 185 for 2 and Dhoni batting well on 104.
But Muralitharan foxed Dravid with a well-flighted delivery to have him caught and bowled for 28. The Indian captain tried to turn the ball on the leg-side but was beaten by what seemed to be a straighter one from Muralitharan and the leading edge popped straight back to the bowler. (185-3, 27.2)
India reached 202 for 3 after 30 overs, still needing another 97 runs at 4.85, a fairly comfortable task, with Dhoni playing on 120 and still some good batting to follow.
Dhoni hit his seventh six in the 31st over, a straight lofted shot off Dilshan, to equal Sourav Ganguly and Tendulkar's record of most sixes in an innings by an Indian batsman. Ganguly had hit seven sixes during his innings of 183 against Sri Lanka at Taunton during the 1999 World Cup, while Tendulkar's record number of sixes came against Australia at Kanpur in 1998. India had won both those matches and looked well on course to win this one too.
Dhoni, who was hampered by cramps and opted to play with a runner, reached his 150 in just 124 balls in the 36th over. The match was now firmly in India's grasp, as they needed another 51 runs in the last 14 overs, with seven wickets in hand. No bowler, even the great Muralitharan, was able to make any impression against the rampaging Dhoni.
At the other end, though, India lost a wicket against the run of play when Dilshan cleaned up Yuvraj Singh for 18. The left-hander played down the wrong line and the ball crashed onto his stumps. (250-4, 36.5)
Dhoni's eighth six came in the dying moments of the match. He launched Chandana over the covers for a huge one in the 45th over to become the first Indian to hit eight sixes in a one-day international. With his ninth six in the same over, he broke Adam Gilchrist's record for the highest score by a wicketkeeper in ODIs. He also went past Kapil Dev's highest ODI score of 175.
His tenth six finally sealed the match, as India won by six wickets and took a 3-0 lead in the series.
India reached 303 for 4 in just 46.1 overs to deal a huge psychological blow on the visitors, who will now be left wondering what needs to be done to stop the in-form Indians.
Dhoni finished unbeaten on 183 to become the joint-second highest scorer in ODIs for India along with former captain Sourav Ganguly. The latter's knock also was against Sri Lanka, in the 1999 World Cup. Only Tendulkar, with 186 not out, against New Zealand in 1999-00 is ahead of them.
Dhoni is also sixth on the all-time list of highest individual scores, behind Saeed Anwar (194), Viv Richards (189 not out), Sanath Jayasuriya (189), Gary Kirsten (188 not out) and Sachin Tendulkar (186 not out).
His 145-ball knock contained 15 boundaries and 10 huge sixes all over the ground as none of the bowlers were successful in their bid to contain him. Venugopal Rao, after a slow start, finished on 19 not out.
India have now taken a commanding 3-0 lead in the seven-match series and Sri Lanka need a miracle to salvage something in the remaining matches.
An interesting point to note: 601 runs were scored in the match, out of which 321 were made by the two wicketkeepers, a rare occurrence in international cricket.
For India, the number three batsman's magic worked again. They had Sri Lanka shell-shocked in Nagpur with Irfan Pathan in that position, and now here there was no answer to Dhoni's blazing knock.