Sachin Tendulkar held centre stage here at the Premadasa Stadium on Monday, his 44th ODI century — his fourth at this ground and his sixth in tournament finals — helping India win the Compaq Cup.

Tendulkar’s 138 (133b, 10x4, 1x6) was an exceptional innings: it illustrated his ability to play strokes on a powdery-slow surface against the new ball and maintain a brisk rate in the middle overs with minimal risk; it also proved that his endurance at 36 is still formidable.

Comfortable cushion

Although India was given a fright by Sri Lanka, the magnitude of the target (320 in 50 overs) allowed the touring side a considerable cushion.

M.S. Dhoni’s men had but to hold their nerve; this they managed, and, despite fielding incompetently, dispelled the memory of Saturday’s mortifying defeat.

The memory hovered, however, for much of Sri Lanka’s innings. Tillakaratne Dilshan and Sanath Jayasuriya, both of whom are ever open to adventure, began Sri Lanka’s chase in a flurry of boundaries.

Harbhajan Singh, introduced in the eighth over, provided the opening, quickening his pace to puncture Dilshan’s attempted stroke to off. The off-spinner then tricked Mahela Jayawardene in flight to procure a return catch.

When Ashish Nehra, unsteady under the high ball, kept his head to catch Jayasuriya off Yusuf Pathan, India had the whip hand. But Sri Lanka didn’t give up.

Although neither Thilan Thushara nor Angelo Mathews stayed long, Sri Lanka remained close to the required run rate thanks to its start. And with Kumar Sangakkara and Thilan Kandamby batting sensibly, the host wasn’t out of it.

Freak dismissal

A freak dismissal appeared to alter matters: Sangakkara lost hold of his bat, which descended in a gentle parabola on the stumps.

India had an opportunity to seal the contest, but Yusuf dropped Kandamby (37) off Yuvraj Singh. The left-hander allied again with Chamara Kapugedera, raising 70 for the seventh wicket, heightening India’s anxiety with every run.

But the batsmen couldn’t sustain the partnership. Suresh Raina had Kapugedera caught behind, Harbhajan bowled Kandamby, and India’s breathing grew easy. Harbhajan soon had his fifth: Ajantha Mendis stumped by country mile.

Earlier, Dravid opened the innings with Tendulkar after India won the toss. Dravid, promoted to fit Virat Kohli in the middle order, got off the mark with a flamboyant, square-cut four. He then struggled to meter his bat-speed to the strip’s slow pace. Nuwan Kulasekara troubled Dravid with his slippery in-duckers.

Genius at work

Tendulkar, however, played the opening bowler expertly. Sangakkara dispensed with slip, choosing to station both catchers in front of the wicket, at one stage having both short-cover and short-extra-cover.

Tendulkar’s response was drawn from genius. The master chose to cover drive in his inimitable manner, the shape of his stroke beautifully classical. But he delayed the stroke, opening his bat face slightly to both accommodate Kulasekara’s movement and evade short-cover.

When two catching men guarded the region, Tendulkar flitted across his stumps to whip the ball between mid-on and mid-wicket.

Dravid found release in a pull off Thushara — the violence of the stroke contained by his commitment to keeping the ball to ground — and began to score at a run a ball. It took the introduction of Jayasuriya’s crabby left-arm spin in the 18th over to bring the first wicket.

He forced Dravid to reach for the ball. The batsman stretched from his crease, found to his dismay that he hadn’t made it to where the ball pitched, and scooped a catch to short-cover.

The middle overs were a period of accumulation, featuring Tendulkar and Dhoni pushing the ball into vacant spaces and running like schoolboys, only faster. A measure of how efficient they were may be had from these numbers: Tendulkar’s first fifty, which largely spanned the First and Bowling Power Plays, had six fours; his second had only two boundaries, but having been obtained in 45 balls, was two balls quicker than the first.

India took the Batting Power Play in the 35th over to best utilise the change of ball, and Dhoni promptly collared Lasith Malinga for two fours through the off-side to bring up his half-century. The Indian captain was handcuffed into top-edging a pull off Malinga, but Tendulkar, despite cramping and having to take a runner (Dravid) on 112, continued.

Tendulkar was eventually leg-before to Mendis, but not before he had finessed the spinner inside-out over cover for six, and reverse-swept him twice for four. Yuvraj, who had started uncertainly, attended to the antics at the end of India’s innings.

More In: Cricket | Sport