Like a road roller levelling fresh asphalt, India advanced to the final of the ICC Champions Trophy with a casual inevitability, crushing Sri Lanka by eight wickets at the Cardiff Wales Stadium here on Thursday.
India played to an increasingly familiar template, limiting the opponent to a mediocre score before knocking the runs off as if the target was an insult.
On a pitch with varying bounce and some measure of assistance for the seamers, Sri Lanka was restricted to 181 for eight in 50 overs, Ishant Sharma taking three for 33.
In pursuit, Shikhar Dhawan maintained his gilded run, making 68, while Virat Kohli finished things off with a hasty 58, as India won with 15 overs to spare.
M.S. Dhoni’s men will now face England in the final in Birmingham on Sunday while Sri Lanka had to endure another disappointing knock-out loss at a major tournament.
India started forcefully, Rohit Sharma driving Nuwan Kulasekara through the covers in the first over.
At the other end, Dhawan showed he was no slouch, sending Lasith Malinga to the offside boundary on more than one occasion, the highlight of his efforts an upper cut over third man for six.
Dhawan was fortunate, though, when he was dropped by Angelo Mathews at slip off Kulasekara. The batsman was only on 18 then and would go on to punish Sri Lanka for this largesse.
Rohit had looked at ease for his 33 but was bowled by Mathews, attempting a needless hoick over the offside. The openers had added 77 runs inside 17 overs and from that stage there was no doubt over the outcome.
Kohli and Dhawan batted patiently for a while before the former took off. The latter’s exit, stumped off Jeevan Mendis, made no impact as Kohli unfurled some fierce hits.
Kulasekara was smashed repeatedly through the cover boundary while the half-century arrived with a straight six off Mendis.
It rained early in the morning but any fears of a thorough washout proved unfounded. The game commenced only half an hour behind schedule, albeit under lights.
For the third time on the bounce, M.S. Dhoni won the toss and invited the opponent to bat.
The spin of the coin was perhaps critical for on a freshly laid pitch, under the dull haze of the day, the ball seamed around.
Kusal Perera’s poor run of scores continued, the batsman driving at a full delivery from Bhuvneshwar Kumar and finding Suresh Raina at second slip.
The other opener Tillakaratne Dilshan had begun fluently, but his occupation of the crease was to end prematurely.
Running between the wickets, Dilshan appeared to pull a muscle and soon limped off in evident pain in the fifth over.
His exit for 12 preceded a desperately sedate period of the match. Umesh Yadav sent down two maidens and Bhuvneshwar one as Sri Lanka gathered only 19 runs in the next 10 overs or so.
This alliance between Kumar Sangakkara and Lahiru Thirimanne, however slow, had promised better things for Sri Lanka until Ishant struck.
The Delhi bowler has not looked particularly incisive for some time now, but he jolted the opponent here with two sharp strikes.
Thirimanne edged behind second ball after drinks, and Raina held an excellent catch low to his right.
Two overs later, Sangakkara, who had vigilantly refrained from driving at anything wide, ultimately yielded, and went in almost identical fashion.
Skipper has a bowl
It was left to Mahela Jayawardena and Mathews to sweep up the pieces. Dhoni, who on some impulse stripped his pads off and sent down four overs, thought he had removed the former, but Aleem Dar’s lbw verdict was overturned on review.
Jayawardena and Mathews proceeded with caution thereafter, adding 78 steady runs for the fourth wicket. But no sooner had the batting Powerplay been taken than Ravindra Jadeja — yet again — broke through, bowling Jayawardena.
Mathews hung around long enough for his fifty before Sri Lanka crumbled, losing four wickets for 23 in the last 4.2 overs.
The match witnessed two sets of pitch intrusions. The first occurred towards the close of the Sri Lankan innings while when two runners, carrying red flags and placards to seemingly make some sort of political statement, entered the playing area.
Rohit Sharma was attempting a catch on the long-on boundary at that point and play bizarrely carried on even as he fumbled and returned the ball to the middle.
The second occurrence was during the Indian innings and involved at least five intruders.
They were wrestled to the ground and hauled away by stewards. Entering the playing area results in immediate eviction and a fine of £1,000.