Hobart: On a day that India needed to be at their most attacking, with their finals hopes hanging by a thread, they were palpably below-par as Sri Lanka capitalised on their lack of intensity to deliver a dominating performance with the bat. Tillakaratne Dilshan shrugged off his initial unease against the swinging ball to gradually open up and march towards his 11th ODI century and Kumar Sangakkara played an innings as attractive as several of his abruptly-terminated cameos this tournament, only longer in duration this time, full of confidence and more pleasing to the eye. An arduous task awaits India, who need to overhaul 320 inside 40 overs to stay in contention for the finals berth; given how their batting has panned out so far this series, they may even struggle to do in 50.
As assured and commanding the Sri Lankans were with the bat, the Indians were insipid and uncertain in the field. The bowlers erred in line way too often, provided plenty of scoring opportunities and the fielders did their bit through a series of fumbles and misfields that didn't mirror the desperation that a side wanting to qualify for the final would put on display. Dilshan and Sangakkara, for their part, didn't allow their own focus and determination to waver and amid some brilliant running between the wickets that often caught the Indian fielding off guard, they were ruthless against the bad balls and adept at improvisation.
Some swing for both Zaheer Khan and Praveen Kumar would have encouraged the Indians, as would have Dilshan's rustiness against inswing early on, but Sri Lanka had the calm head of Mahela Jayawardene to guide them at the start. His assuredness stood out as he dispatched Zaheer over mid-on and deep midwicket for a four and a six, infusing the innings with fluency as his usually attacking partner was slowly but surely finding his ground.
The introduction of spin in the 12th over brought about Jayawardene's downfall when he edged to slip, but it also helped Dilshan step up in the company of Sangakkara. The approach was one of workmanlike accumulation against the spinners; singles and twos were pinched with ease, the fielders inside the circle made to look redundant as deliveries pushed to mid-on and mid-off yielded ones with regularity. There was also aggression involved, as Dilshan stepped out to Ravindra Jadeja to launch him over mid-on and brought up his half-century by slashing R Ashwin past point. His first truly forceful shot was a ferocious pull off Umesh Yadav earlier in the innings, something replicated by Sangakkara, and they pushed on when the slow bowlers were deployed.
Both Dilshan and Sangakkara scored heavily off the back foot, as the spinners dropped short often; Dilshan had the width he needed to play his favoured cut and Sangakkara the length he required to execute his much relied-on punch through cover. Virender Sehwag was taken for runs by the pair, Sangakkara launching him for six when it appeared Praveen Kumar at long-on was in by a yard or two too many and bringing up his fifty by clanking him past the bowler. The batting Powerplay was taken in the 33rd over, and the seamers didn't help India's cause by doling out deliveries on leg stump with a fine leg up. Dilshan clipped Zaheer to the boundary and Sangakkara sent Yadav into the stands with a whip off the pads.
The cue for a final surge came in the 41st over, right after Dilshan reached three-figures. Sangakkara, with three fielders in the deep on the leg side, still found the boundary on two consecutive occasions, swinging through long-on and square leg. He reached his 13th ODI century, off 84 balls, off a leading edge against Zaheer, who continued to bowl gift balls outside leg stump to Dilshan in his final spell. Sangakkara's innings ended in the 44th over as he tried to scoop a full delivery from Praveen but Dilshan ensured the tempo remained unhindered.
As attempted yorkers fell short of their desired length and became length balls, Dilshan swung Zaheer and Yadav into the crowd behind deep square leg and deep midwicket, before reserving the same treatment for Suresh Raina in the final over on his way to a equaling his career-best score. A tired Indian team looked on, the likelihood of this being their last match on a forgettable tour staring them in the face.