Opener Gautam Gambhir (102) hit a calculated century and Suresh Raina played a decisive 65-run knock to power India to a thrilling five-wicket win over Sri Lanka in the third one-day international on Saturday.
Chasing 287 to win, India overhauled the target with two balls to spare and took a 2-1 lead in the five-match series.
Gambhir’s 11th ODI century could have gone down the drain had Raina not played that heroic innings in company of Irfan Pathan (34 off 31) down the order.
The two-left handers added 92 runs in their unconquered sixth-wicket partnership and piloted India to highest ever successful run chase on the Sri Lankan soil.
Raina’s 23rd half-century, adorned with six fours and one six, while Pathan’s innings had three boundaries.
After electing to bat, Sri Lanka put on an impressive 286 for five with Kumar Sangakkara (73), Angelo Matthews (71 not out) and skipper Mahela Jayawardene (65) scoring half-centuries
For India, pacer Zaheer Khan (2/39) accounted for two wickets while Irfan Pathan, Ashok Dinda and Rahul Sharma chipped in with a wicket apiece.
India’s chase, though, was shaky with Virender Sehwag (3) becoming the first victim when Thisara Perera had him caught in covers.
Gambhir and Kohli then put on 105 runs for the second wicket to repair the innings. Spinner Rangana Herath separated them when he caught Kohli off his own bowling in the 21st over.
India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni promoted himself up the order and made a useful 31, adding 67 runs with Gambhir for the third wicket.
India were placed comfortably at that stage but the batting powerplay did not go their way as they lost Dhoni and Rohit Sharma (0) in the first two balls of the 36th over.
Paceman Malinga first bowled Dhoni with a crushing yorker and then trapped Rohit in the next ball. Rohit has now got two ducks in three innings but no one knows as to how longer would the Indian captain persist with this horribly out-of-form Mumbai batsman.
India’s fate was in the hands of Raina and Pathan as team needed 107 runs from 15 overs and the duo did not disappoint.
Earlier, Sri Lanka were off to a poor start as they were three down with just 20 runs inside sixth over.
Zaheer gave the visitors the first breakthrough as he sent back last match’s half-centurion Tillakaratne Dilshan (4) in his second over of the innings.
The opener was unlucky as he had no idea where the ball went after he defended it off the front foot and all it did was to trickle down towards stumps.
Upul Tharanga (8) chased a wide delivery from Khan that was wide outside off-stump and got a thick outside edge which was lapped up by Dhoni.
Comeback man Pathan did not allow Dinesh Chandimal to get off the mark as he was stuck on the crease to a ball that pitched on about middle and leg and then straightened, rapped him on the back leg to be adjudged LBW.
Experienced duo of Sangakkara and Jayawardene then batted responsibly to steer their team out of the woods. The duo added 121 runs for the fourth-wicket to redeem the host innings, which was tottering at 20 for three at one stage.
Jayawardene reached his 68th ODI fifty with a couple off R Ashwin, Sangakkara got to his 73rd ODI half-century and 16th against India with a single down the ground.
While Jayawardene hit five fours in his 79-ball innings, Sangakkara faced 95 balls for his commendable effort and found the fence six times.
Jayawardene, who had started to open up with some lovely sweeps and reverse sweep was sent back by leg-spinner Rahul Sharma. He went on the back foot attempting to work the ball away but it hurried on and hit him in front of leg stump.
The Sri Lankan did not look too pleased with umpire Kumar Dharmasena’s decision.
Dinda then took out Sangakkara in the 38th over when the Sri Lankan failed to connect a fuller ball just outside the off-stump and gifted a simple catch to Virat Kohli at point.
Sri Lanka managed just 24 runs from the batting powerplay with just two boundaries and the loss of Sangakkara.
That’s a period where India looked to have pulled some loose strings but Matthews and Mendis pummeled the Indian bowling with some lusty hitting.