India's defeat in the last game of the one-day series may have been a bit of a dampener, but in all fairness, Sri Lanka were convincingly outplayed in the previous four matches to hand the Men in Blue a record nine consecutive ODI wins. Jayawardene and his men huffed and puffed at the ramparts of the Indian juggernaut, but try as they could, their efforts did precious little to throw their opponents off track.
For Sri Lanka, far too many things went wrong for them to put up any real fight. Every time they batted, whether it was to set a score or to chase a target, they hardly got a pair of batsmen together who could forge a big partnership. On two of three occasions that they did: Game 2 - Kandamby and Jayawardene put on a partnership of 100 runs for the fourth wicket, and Game 5 - Dilshan and Sangakkara put on 143 for the second wicket - they put India under tremendous pressure. Otherwise, it was always a case of one batsman scoring heavily with little or no support from the other team members.
The other telling problem for Sri Lanka is that they rely very heavily on all their top three batsmen to score. When the top three delivered, as they did in game five, Sri Lanka posted a mammoth total of 320, but by then they had lost the series. In the absence of the top three combining for a big opening, the middle order seemed bereft of the ability to undertake the job of building and giving momentum to the innings. Jayawardene need only look to his opposition number to understand the importance of this role, for as captain, it is his responsibility to get this piece of the jigsaw right.
In the absence of the veteran Chaminda Vaas, Sri Lanka were always going to rely heavily on their spin twins, a.k.a. Murali and Mendis. But the manner in which they were treated by the Indians gave one a sense of misplaced confidence in the duo on the part of the Lankan think-tank. Mendis in particular has gone from being the toast of the side to its fall guy, when he was rested for the fourth ODI. And while Murali deserves all credit for having broken Wasim Akram's record as the highest wicket-taker in one-day cricket, he would have undoubtedly preferred achieving the milestone on a winning note.
The Indians, in contrast, put up a clinical performance. Sehwag, Gambhir, Raina and Yusuf all batted supremely, to wrest the initiative from the opposition. Yuvraj may well have won the Man of the Series award for his stellar efforts with the bat, but for me, personally, Dhoni might have been a better choice given his consistent run of performances and the usual calm with which he marshalled his troops. Dhoni is a leader whose teammates feed off his own reassuring presence on the field, and in him they find a leader who will back them irrespective of the odds or situation.
Amongst the bowlers, Ishant proved that he is a handful even on flat tracks, given his pace and bounce, while Praveen Kumar had the Sri Lankans tormented with his variations in swing in the few games that he played. Pragyan Ojha managed to put in a few impressive performances, but it would be foolish for him to believe that with figures of 4 for 38 from 10 overs in the third ODI, fame is knocking at his doorstep. Instead, Pragyan would do well to learn from the roller-coaster career of fellow teammate Irfan Pathan, whose performances in the last two ODIs were a far cry from the lad who burst onto the international scene in 2003-2004.
The only piece of caution for India is that performances on benign pitches like the ones on offer in Sri Lanka are no indication of how the team might fare in the seaming conditions that would be characteristic of their next series in New Zealand. Also, Dhoni needs to settle down with his choice of number six and seven in the batting order. Raina may have enjoyed more success ahead of Rohit Sharma and Yusuf Pathan right through the series, but with Ravindra Jadeja throwing his hat in the ring after an impressive 60 in the last ODI, who Dhoni would like to persist with in the long run is a moot point.
Finally, if ever there was a more convincing case made for technology playing a bigger role in the game, it was with the series of poor decisions that had Sachin Tendular being given out in the first three games. Why we would deny ourselves access to conclusive technology and stay deprived of the spectacle of a batting wonder is something that is completely lost on me.