Man-of-the-Match MS Dhoni is set to launch the ball out of the ground that brought India their series victory.
Man-of-the-Match MS Dhoni is set to launch the ball out of the ground that brought India their series victory.

PORT-OF-SPAIN — India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni smashed 16 runs off the last over as India beat Sri Lanka by one wicket in a nail-biting Tri-Nations series final at the Queen’s Park Oval today.

Set 202 to win, opener Rohit Sharma hit 58 as India looked to be coasting to victory in Port of Spain.

But Dhoni’s side slumped from 139 to 3 to 152 for 7 with Rangana Herath taking four of the wickets and Lasith Malinga then captured the wicket of Bhuvneshwar Kumar to leave India on 167 for 8, still 36 runs short of their target.

Namesake Vinay Kumar came to the crease and added 15 with Dhoni before being caught by substitute Sachithra Senanayake off skipper Angelo Mathews, with India still requiring 20 runs off the last 23 balls.

Last-man Ishant Sharma survived two potential run outs before scoring two runs to leave Dhoni needing 15 off the last over.

Shaminda Eranga was given the task to bowl and had a dot ball before Dhoni smashed a massive six to leave India requiring nine off four balls.

He next sliced a boundary past point and then smashed another six to see his side home by one wicket and two balls to spare – and take his personal tally to 45 runs off 52 balls.

Bear in mind that this was a treacherous pitch with seam, spin and uneven bounce. Dhoni was injured, and had come back only for this match. He wasn’t running as hard as he does, and wickets were falling at the other end. When Dhoni came in to run, the asking rate was 4.48, but with falling wickets and turned-down singles, it hit the improbable towards the end. Dhoni, though, kept refusing singles, kept admonishing the last man Sharma for taking off for panic-stricken singles.

Ishant couldn’t be blamed. The game had unravelled fast for India. They were cruising when Rohit Sharma had braved for yet another fifty despite another painful blow to his body (which makes it four in two innings against Sri Lanka), despite many balls that seamed past his edge, despite the slow start. When India were 139 for 3 in the 32nd over, though, Herath delivered a grubber, and it squeezed under Rohit’s bat. Things were about to change.

The pitch was still difficult to bat on as Suresh Raina soon found out. He thought he had a half-volley from Sunranga Lakmal when he went for the drive, but even after pitching that full the ball seamed away appreciably and took his edge. The accurate and wily Herath saw an opening now. And burst through it. In the 38th over, his last, Herath trapped Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin – whose combined figures had been 17.3-1-65-6 – in successive deliveries. India 152 for 7.

The drama had begun. Only a few minutes earlier, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara had gone on and on – for overs it seemed – about an obstructing-the-field appeal against Dhoni. He had taken two steps down the wicket, and then realised he would have hit the other batsman if he ran straight. So he ran, nay hared on a bad hamstring, at an angle, but didn’t change his direction for the remaining 20 yards. The throw hit him, and the two senior Sri Lankans would not leave the umpire’s side. They knew they needed this man out as soon as possible.

For the next half hour, though, Sri Lanka would have thought they didn’t need to get Dhoni out. Dhoni tried to intimidate Lakmal once during the Powerplay, but after that he began playing the percentage game. Sri Lanka knew Dhoni couldn’t manipulate the strike with that hamstring, and controlled the game well. Malinga — seven overs for 54 runs until then – finally got his radar right, and got Bhuvneshwar Kumar toe before wicket with his dipping slower yorker. In the tense four overs that followed, R Vinay Kumar lost his cool, and slogged and got out. India 182 for 9 after 46.2 overs.

With any other batsman than Dhoni, you would expect panic. Dhoni, though, wanted to corner just one man. He wanted to bring it down to that one man. He was also daring Sri Lanka to keep back Malinga, who had one over left, for the last. Sri Lanka didn’t. Malinga bowled the 48th. Dhoni faced the whole over, looking unhurried, for just a scrambled couple.

The only man hurried was Ishant, who tried a suicidal single off the last ball of Malinga’s over to keep Dhoni on strike. The ball, though, had gone straight to the fielder, and Dhoni was miffed Ishant tried such desperation. It was not becoming of a batsman batting with the coolest and the best batsman in ODI cricket. Ishant would do that again off the first ball of the next over. Twice Dhoni let Ishant know what he did was not right. Ishant faced another dot. Then another dot. Seventeen off nine. Dhoni was cool at the other end. He had marked out his man. He knew it wouldn’t be an experienced bowler in the next over.

Two runs came off the last three balls of the 49th over, but Ishant was made to feel under no pressure. He had been told to leave it to the man who knew his way around these lanes. Then began the great show. As soon as Ishant left alone – yes, left alone – the last ball of the 49th over, Dhoni signalled to the dressing room for a new, heavier bat.

As captain Angelo Mathews psyched Eranga up for the last over, Dhoni practised a few swings with two bats held together. Calculatedly he picked out one. Eranga went to his mark. This match should not have been on, but in Dhoni’s book this was even odds. Eranga bowled a nervous first ball: a wide length ball, which Dhoni swung hard at. That was a nervous ball, and would have been out of the ground had Dhoni connected. Dhoni didn’t.

The second ball, though, was closer to Dhoni, swing, and met that hunk on the up. And up it went. And far. And kept going. Over the top of the stands. You could see it in Eranga’s eyes now. It was now going to be nigh impossible for Eranga to execute his skill now. In one hit, Dhoni had brought it down to just luck for Sri Lanka. The luck was not with them. Eranga bowed length again, Dhoni went hard again, and the ball flew off the outside half of the bat, and over point.

It was over already. Eranga just ran up for the formalities, delivered another length ball, and was dispatched over extra cover. The iceman had done it again, but he hadn’t had a great first half of the day as a keeper and a captain. Apart from not having been at his best with the gloves, Dhoni had also let Sri Lanka off the hook with his choice of part-time bowlers ahead of the specialist spinners, who would eventually go on to cut Sri Lanka’s effort short.

Bhuvneshwar had given India his customary breakthroughs in the first spell, the scoring was difficult, but Kohli and Raina provided Sangakkara and Lahiru Thirimanne relief with their odd long hop or big wides. Their partnership took Sri Lanka to 171 for 2, but then Thirimanne made a mistake, and almost every batsman that followed. In over-aiming during that Powerplay, Sri Lanka had lost their last eight wickets for 30 runs, letting Dhoni and his men off the hook. (cricinfo)

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