Yuvraj Singh celebrates his whirlwind hundred.
Powered by Yuvraj Singh's brutal century, the Indians cruised to a pre-ODI series 92-run win against a Sri Lankan XI at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium in Colombo. Yuvraj hit 13 sixes in a 121-ball 172, taking the Indians to 342 for 5, and in reply the opposition - comprising ten internationals - produced a sloppy chase, managing 250 in their 50 overs. It was a good way for the Indians to celebrate the 61st anniversary of their country's independence.
The last time Yuvraj had scored a hundred in a limited-overs game had been on October 5 2007, against Australia. He dismissed that drought, albeit against a weaker attack, with a two-paced innings that lifted the Indians to a massive total. Yuvraj came in at No. 4 in the 13th over and struggled initially, often going hard at the ball, which resulted in mistimed drives and dragged cuts. An otherwise erratic Dilhara Fernando - his no-ball problem continued and he bowled too short - beat Yuvraj repeatedly off the upright seam, forcing him to hold back on his expansive strokeplay for a while.
But with Suresh Raina in good nick, the singles came easily. Raina broke free from a tense start by backing away and slamming Fernando over cover for four. He also had his share of mistimed shots, but came back well to blast a big six over midwicket off Jehan Mubarak. Like Gautam Gambhir, he too fell while trying an aggressive shot too many, giving Malinga Bandara his first wicket.
In the mean time, Yuvraj had settled in. Crucially, he was confident against spin - he hit Malinda Warnapura for a six in his solitary over - and his flicks across the line were all power and precision. He stood tall to punch the shorter deliveries through the in-field and his bent-knee while driving down the ground was pleasing.
Yuvraj blasted sixes off the first two balls of Thilan Thushara's comeback over, the 36th, moving past fifty with the first. A whip over mid-on followed, and Yuvraj then trained his ire towards Bandara, striking his fourth six. His century came off 95 balls, after which he decided to have some fun. In 16 balls, he raced past 150, pasting Mubarak for three more sixes and a four in his final over and hitting his ninth and tenth sixes, both effortless swings over long-on, off a beleaguered Chanaka Welegedara.
Yuvraj's final six was the pick of the lot, a stunning shot over long-off which nearly took out the press cordon. His 13 sixes were the second-most for a 50-overs innings in this decade, after Namibia's Gary Snyman, who hit 17 during his 196 against UAE last November.
Yuvraj's partners went unnoticed during his blitz, but they played their part in India putting up a mammoth total. Rohit Sharma scored a 42-ball 24 in an 85-run fourth-wicket stand, while Mahendra Singh Dhoni's contribution to a 99-run stand, which came in just 6.4 overs, was a mere 16.
In reply, Upul Tharanga gave his team as robust a start as the Indians had got. He threw the bat at anything marginally over-pitched and wide, tucking into some indifferent new-ball bowling from Munaf Patel and RP Singh. While the two bowlers produced three good lbw shouts in consecutive overs they also gave too much width; Tharanga cashed in with an upper cut over third man and into the ivy-covered scorecard.
But the aggression was short-lived. Through a mixture of edges, top-edges and poor footwork it all started to go downhill. Mahela Udawatte had a fortuitous top-edge over point, followed it up with a perfectly-placed cut for four, only to then spoon a catch to mid-off. Warnapura fell to a very good catch from Gambhir at first slip, taken diving to his left. In the next over, after going past an electrifying half-century, Tharanga tried to pull RP but top-edged to the wicketkeeper, leaving the required rate at just under eight. In fewer than five overs the Sri Lankan XI had combusted.
Harbhajan Singh's introduction tightened the Indians' grip. His accurate offspin, backed by balanced and energetic field placing, kept runs at a minimum. A trigger-happy Chamara Kapugedera tried to sweep him out of the park but found deep midwicket instead. With the asking rate burgeoning to nearly ten an over, the sprightly Chamara Silva cut and swept Pragyan Ojha's left-arm spin for boundaries. After 32 overs the Sri Lankan XI needed 191, and Ojha came back well to force a faint nick from Silva to Dhoni for 38. Mubarak remained in the hunt for a place in the national team with 60 from 74 balls but when he departed the side needed 118 from 15 balls, and the result was never in doubt.
India and Sri Lanka meet in Dambulla for the first ODI on August 18.