| Rahul Dravid after his half-century in Pune on Thursday. (AFP)
Pune: The capacity crowd danced to the tune of Bollywood chartbusters being played on the giant screen at the Nehru Stadium. Mahendra Singh Dhoniís back-to-back sixes had sealed the Videocon Cup for India half an hour ago, but the celebrations did not seem to die in a hurry.
India, after all, had won an ODI series (bilateral or featuring more than two teams) at home for the first time since they tamed Zimbabwe 3-2 in 2001-02. The significance of this success can be far-reaching. It may herald a new chapter in Indian cricket.
Dhoni and super sub Suresh Rainaís unbroken 82-run stand for the seventh wicket took the match away from the Sri Lankans after the visitors had threatened to halt Team Indiaís winning march.
The Indians, chasing 262, were reduced to 180 for six and it looked like the home team would surrender soon. But Dhoni and Raina kept a cool head, gradually negated the Lankansí advantage and, in the end, coasted to victory.
It was an uncharacteristic Dhoni innings till before the closing stages. He stayed away from the aerial route, dealing only in ones and twos and playing the seniorís role to perfection.
Dhoni (45 not out off 43 balls, 1x4, 2x6) showed that he was not just a master of big shots, but was equally adept at playing a workmanlike innings. Raina (39 not out off 30 balls, 2x4) was more adventurous. The ease and confidence with which the left-hander hooked and pulled Dilhara Fernando and Fervez Maharoof showed a maturity beyond his years.
Y. Venugopal Rao also impressed during his 38. He square cut Maharoof for a huge six and was severe on anything that offered width.
The foundation had been set by the seasoned Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid after the early dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar. The third-wicket pair featuring the captain and his deputy added 78 runs.
Sachin paid the price for giving the charge to Chaminda Vaas. Yuvraj Singh, the No. 3 for this match, cut straight to gully. While the young Lankan pacers failed to make much impact, the experienced Vaas was allowed to cool heels around the boundary ropes. Why four of his overs remained unused will remain a mystery.
Dravidís composed 63 was built in the usual manner while Sehwagís flamboyant ways should have ended his innings earlier. The opener survived twice, and had Kumar Sangakkara held on to a fairly simple chance when Sehwag was on 20, the bottomline may have been different.
Muttiah Muralidharan was the other Lankan bowler to impress. His tantalising flight and variations made the batsmenís task difficult.
The early life on the wicket was to the Indiansí liking. The bowlers justified Dravidís decision to field first ' and go in with three pacers ' by using a track offering carry and bounce intelligently. One ball from S. Sreesanth even flew over the wicketkeeper for four byes. Things eased as the day progressed.
The morning, however, belonged to Man-of-the-Match Ajit Agarkar. He struck the right length, forced the batsmen to make mistakes and reaped the rewards with his second five-wicket haul.
The Mumbaikar removed Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya early and as Sreesanth complemented his efforts at the other end ' picking up Upul Tharangaís wicket ' the visitors found themselves in a tangle. This was after Dravid had dropped a straightforward Jayasuriya offering in the slips.
Tillekeratne Dilshan and Maravan Atapattu then got together to make amends. The pair stitched together 97 for the fourth wicket in 113 balls. They never hesitated to go over the infield and that put the pressure back on the Indians. The spinners were milked dry with some smart use of the feet.
Once Dilshan paid the penalty for playing the wrong line, Atapattu found a suitable ally in Russel Arnold, adding another 83 in a fifth-wicket partnership. The visiting captain took the responsibility of setting a reasonable target with some extravagant shots on both sides of the wicket. Until a stunning return catch by Sehwag ended his efforts, 13 short of a hundred, Lanka had looked poised to reach 300.
Agarkar returned to wipe off the tail and emphasise his utility to the side. The Lankans were left to rue falling at least 20 short.