Needing 15 from the last over in their chase of 202, Dhoni smashed Shaminda Eranga for two sixes and a boundary in just four balls to finish off the game in style at the Queen's Park Oval.
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The result also meant that the Champions Trophy winners' recent run of success in the 50-over format continued. As the captain slammed Eranga over extra cover for the winning shot, the Indian crowd erupted in joy and the jubilant players ran down the pitch to flank the man of the moment, who remained unbeaten on 45 off 52 balls.
Coming in at the fall of Suresh Raina's wicket with India in a spot of bother at 145 for five in the 35th over, Dhoni added important runs with lower-order and in the process hit five fours and two sixes. Dhoni was calculative and waited till the end before launching that one final assault which left the Lankans shell-shocked as the islanders fancied their chances after Rangana Herath's four-wicket burst on a pitch that was not conducive for strokeplay.
While Dhoni played the match-winning knock, Rohit Sharma, who hit five fours and a six, top-scored for India with 58 off 89 balls. Raina contributed 32 off 27 balls. In pursuit of what seemed like a modest target, India lost Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli early to Eranga. Sharma found an ally in Dinesh Karthik with whom he added 50 runs for the third wicket before the wicketkeeper-batsman was dismissed for 23.
Sharma then forged a 62-run stand in eight overs with Raina to consolidate India's position. Sensing the need to bid time in the middle, Sharma and Raina played sensible cricket before the Mumbaikar was done in by a Herath ball that kept low before hitting the stumps. This was Herath's second wicket, after he sent back Karthik who was caught by Mahela Jayawardene at slip.
Before making his way back to the pavilion, Sharma showed exemplary patience. While he slashed Lasith Malinga over third man for a six in the 14th over, Sharma had to wait until the 19th over of the Indian innings to score his first four. While Sharma's first four was a slice past point, the next one came off a hook that almost cleared fine leg.
Lasith Malinga was carted for three fours -- a drive over extra cover and a pull along the ground was followed by a cut over point. After that Sri Lanka pulled things back by dismissing Sharma and Raina followed suit to leave the game evenly poised. Desperate to put India under more pressure, Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara appealed against Dhoni for what they felt was obstruction of field while running for a single.
After responding late to Jadeja's call, Dhoni was running towards the striker's end and came in between the throw and the stumps. Both the SL players were convinced that Dhoni changed his direction, but the umpires thought otherwise. The Lankans soon found reasons to cheer as Herath took two wickets off successive balls in his final over to leave India precariously placed at 152/7 in 38 overs.
With Sri Lanka closing in on India's tail, Dhoni decided to use the long handle, which was evident from that thick outside edge that flew over the first-slip for a four. He then whacked Malinga's full toss delivery through deep midwicket, before pushing Mathews for a four through the gap between point and short third man.
Dhoni saw Jadeja, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and R Vinay Kumar getting dismissed in quick succession, but himself showed nerves of steel to steer his side home in company of number 11 Ishant Sharma. Earlier, India benefited immensely after Sri Lanka's middle and lower-order batsmen committed hara-kiri, which saw the team lose eight wickets for just 30 runs before being bundled out for 201.
Sent into bat, Sri Lanka were sitting pretty at 171 for two in the 38th over, but lack of application saw them being packed off with seven balls left in their innings. Jadeja was the most successful Indian bowlers returning figures of 4/24 while there were two wickets apiece for Bhuvneshwar, Ishant and Ashwin.
Bhuvneshwar made use of seaming conditions to send back Upul Tharanga and Mahela Jayawardene. Incidentally, the duo had punished India with a double-century partnership in the match that the young seamer was dropped. Sri Lanka then rode on Sangakkara (71) and Lahiru Thirimanne's 122-run partnership for the third wicket to stage a fightback before their innings disintegrated due to some mindless batting.
Thirimanne scored 46 off 72 balls. From a comfortable position with about 12 overs to go, Sri Lanka were left licking their wounds at 193 for seven in the 46th over when skipper Angelo Mathews got out. None of the last six batsmen could reach double figures. Sri Lanka made a cautious start but after reaching 27 in the seventh over, the islanders suffered their first blow when Bhuvneshwar changed his angle to induce an inside edge from Upul Tharanga.
The ever-consistent Bhuvneshwar was at it again, in the 14th over, as he removed Jayawardene with an innocuous delivery that moved a bit on landing at the Queen's Park Oval. Losing the experienced Jayawardene so early into the innings was a big blow for the Lankans and they desperately needed solidity at that point of time. Sri Lanka found the answer to their worries in the form of another veteran, Sangakkara, who anchored the innings.
Sangakkara mixed caution with common sense as he realised early that playing expansive shots was not the way to go about the task on this wicket. Playing equally responsibly at the other end was Thirimanne who complemented his senior partner to prop up Sr Lanka's innings. Joining hands at 49 for two in the 14th over, the two brought up their 100 partnership in the 36th over with Thirimanne cutting Ishant for a boundary.
It was the start of batting powerplay and Lanka were straightaway on the money with both Sangakkara and Thirimanne going after Ishant who conceded 24 runs in the two overs he bowled at that stage of the game. After being carted for two fours through the offside by Thirimanne, Ishant was at the receiving end of Sangakkara's treatment.
Not content hitting two successive fours in the 38th over's first two balls, Sangakkara launched into Ishant smashing his length ball straight down the ground for a six. But the over turned to be an eventful one as Ishant finally tasted success having Thirimanne caught by Bhuvneshwar at midoff. Soon Sri lanka suffered another jolt as Ashwin joined the party by removing Sangakkara with a tossed-up ball.
Sangakkara's mistimed drive was taken by Vinay Kumar, who ran a few steps backwards from mid-on, to complete a catch. Ashwin struck again as he had Kusal Perera who was swiftly stumped by Dhoni. After fighting their way back into the match, Sri Lanka were crumbling with Jadeja having Dinesh Chandimal. Mathews followed suit as Sri Lanka's innings approached its end.