A 15-year-old title drought came to an end as India won the Asia Cup cricket tournament after crushing defending champions Sri Lanka by 81 runs in a lop-sided final in Dambulla on Thursday night.
Electing to bat first, India posted a competitive 268 for six and then defended the total without much hiccup with the seamers producing a scintillating performance, skittling out the hosts for 187 in 44.4 overs at the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium.
This was India's first Asia Cup triumph since Mohammad Azharuddin had led them to the title in Sharjah in 1995. On that occasion also, India had beaten Sri Lanka by eight wickets in the final.
The Indian seam attack rose to the challenge when it mattered the most, accounting for the scalps of Tillakaratne Dilshan (0), Upul Tharanga (16), Mahela Jayawardene (11), Angelo Mathews (0) and captain Kumar Sangakkara (17) in just 16 overs.
Sri Lanka never recovered from those telling blows. But for Kapugedera's unbeaten 55 of 88 balls, which was laced with four boundaries and a six, the match would have ended sooner.
Nehra was the most successful Indian bowler with four for 40 while Zaheer Khan and Ravindra Jadeja taking two wickets apiece by conceding 36 and 29 runs respectively. Praveen Kumar chipped in with one wicket.
Praveen Kumar struck first blood when he had Dilshan caught at mid-on, an attempted pull from outside off stump ballooning to Harbhajan Singh inside the 30-yard circle.
Even as Sri Lanka had recovered from Dilshan's fall in the first over, Zaheer Khan, bowling with great verve and zing, castled Tharanga. The ball broke back to hit off stump as the left hander shouldered arms.
Taking over from Zaheer (5-0-17-1) from the pavilion end, Ashish Nehra struck thrice in seven balls to break the Sri Lankan spine.
Shackled and deprived runs by the Indian quicks, Jayawardene jabbed at a short of a length Nehra delivery for skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni to complete a regulation catch.
Angelo Mathews walked into the cauldron, hoping to steer his side out of troubled waters. But the batting all-rounder lasted all but two deliveries, wafting his bat a distant Nehra delivery for Dhoni to do the rest.
The pressure seemed to have got to Sangakkara. Sedate until the fall of Jayawerdene's wicket at 50, the Sri Lankan captain threw his willow at a short Nehra delivery only to see Zaheer Khan come under the ball at the mid-on.
Staggering on the ropes at 51 for 5, Sri Lanka were virtually out of the contest. However, Thilina Kandamby and Chamara Kapugedera (55 not out) waged a grim battle, posting 53 runs for the sixth wicket.
Once Kandamby (31) succumbed to a run out in the 30th over, the rest of the Sri Lankan batting withered under pressure and India made amends of their seven-wicket loss to the same opponents in their last league match two days back.
Earlier, Dinesh Karthik (66) struck a fighting half-century as India scored a competitive 268 for six.
Except for opener Gautam Gambhir, each of the top order batsmen made their contributions after India opted to bat on a true wicket at the Rangiri International Stadium.
Man-of-the-match Karthik looked like he has sealed himself a place in the squad for the tri-series against Sri Lanka and New Zealand with a pugnacious 84-ball 66, while being involved in three crucial partnerships -- 38 for first with Gambhir (15), 52 for the second with Virat Kohli (28), and 46 for third with his skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (38).
In contrast to their performance in the last league game, Sri Lanka were off-colour today. Their bowling lacked discipline with hat-trick man of the last game, Farveez Maharoof bleeding boundaries at the start of the innings.
India lost Gambhir early, in the seventh over. Playing in his 100 ODI, the left-hander enjoyed two reprieves of successive balls off Nuwan Kulasekara, but failed to cash in on Sri Lanka's largess.
While attempting an unnecessary third run after turning Kulasekara off his pads to square leg, Gambhir found himself short of his crease when Kulasekara, collecting the return from Upul Chandana, broke the stumps at non-striker's end.
India were though in fine fettle when Karthik and Virat Kohli were at the crease, and at 100 for one in 18 overs, a total of around 290 looked possible.
But a distant jab at a Lasith Malinga slinger by an impetuous Kohli momentarily stopped India in their tracks.
However, Karthik and Dhoni helped India regain the momentum, raising 46 runs for the fourth wicket.
Barely moments after Karthik had mishit a Thilina Kandamby full toss to Mahela Jayawardene at midwicket, Dhoni sliced the burly leg-spinner to Kulasekara at backward point to leave his side at 167 for four.
India recovered from the Kandamby strikes through the gutsy performance of Rohit Sharma (41) and Raina (29), who raised 50 runs for the fifth wicket in 52 balls.
With 217 runs on the board in 41 overs and six wickets in hand, a big score looked possible for India.
But Raina's demise to a Malinga yorker, denied them crucial runs in the death overs, though Rohit and Ravindra Jadeja (25 not out) strove to break loose from the Lankan shackles. PTI