A ruthless India stormed into the final of the ICC Champions Trophy with an emphatic eight-wicket victory over a hapless Sri Lanka on Thursday.
The 2011 World Cup champions relied on a clinical all-round display to put themselves on course for yet another world title.
India first put up a disciplined bowling show to restrict Sri Lanka to 181 for eight and then overhauled the target with as many as 15 overs to spare to set up a summit showdown with hosts England on Sunday.
In the process, they maintained their unbeaten track record in this edition of the tournament, winning all the four matches, and are now gunning for their second Champions Trophy title, having shared it with Sri Lanka in 2002.
While Ishant Sharma (3-33) and Ravichandran Ashwin (3-48) were the bowling heroes on a cloudy and chilly day at the Sofia Gardens, in-form Shikhar Dhawan (68) and Virat Kohli (58 not out) were the notable contributors with the bat in what turned out to be a completely lop-sided encounter.
Dhawan scored his second ODI half-century; his 77-run opening stand with Rohit Sharma (33) set up the easy victory.
In a tournament where India has flexed its batting muscle, it was the bowlers who came to the party after deciding to chase.
Even as the afternoon remained overcast, the Sophia Gardens wicket eased out considerably and Lanka's spearheads Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara were barely threatening.
There were a few times when the ball missed the edge of the bat, but Dhawan and Rohit were never in discomfort.
Sharma gave the Indian innings a breezy start, punching Kulasekara through cover and Dhawan matched him with a similar stroke off Malinga, who struggled to find his bowling form on a big day.
Malinga actually suffered a bit of humiliation when Dhawan upper cut him for a six at backward point.
As has been a feature in this tournament, Dhawan held one end up and, except for lives on 18 and 62 – Kulasekara was the luckless bowler, the left-hander was a picture of confidence. His 50 came off 73 balls and was laced with six fours and a six.
The first time Rohit's patience deserted him, he lost his wicket. Stepping out to club Mathews over extra-cover, he got an inside edge and was bowled. That brought Kohli in, and except for a pitch invasion allegedly by Tamil Tiger supporters, there was no scare for the Indian batsmen.
Kohli, whose first boundary, a lofted extra cover drive off Kulasekara, came after 41 balls, scored 65 runs for the second-wicket with Dhawan as Sri Lanka were left chasing shadows in a horribly one-sided encounter.
Dhawan (68 off 92 balls) was finally stumped by Kumar Sangakkara after the batsman played full-stretched forward to leg-spinner Jeevan Mendis and failed to regain his crease by millimeters.
Kohli, who scored his 23rd half-century, with a six off Mendis, remained unbeaten after facing 64 balls; his 40-run stand with Suresh Raina (7 not out) saw India home and dry on a day that was heavily threatened by the elements.
Earlier, Ishant and Ashwin restricted Sri Lanka. Mathews was Lanka's top-scorer with a 51. India's quick bowlers exploited the conditions very well on a track that saw some seam and bounce. While Bhuvneshwar moved the ball around, Ishant and Umesh Yadav used their build to torment the Lankan top order.
For the first time in the championship, India's new-ball bowlers were like demons, extracting pace, lift and lateral movement all in tandem. Ishant got appreciable lift at the Taff River end and at least three deliveries rose disconcertingly. There were several play and misses but the deliveries that pitched, lifted and left the batsmen, fetched the wickets.
The fact that the first three Lankan batsmen were all caught at slips explains how the ball jagged around in the overcast conditions. The decision to bowl first after winning the toss was thus vindicated. The weather improved dramatically after a rainy morning. Great work by the ground staff ensured the start would be delayed by only 30 minutes.
This was the best gift to about 14,000 fans that turned up, most of them Indians.
While Team India retained their eleven, Sri Lanka made two changes. Vice-captain and in-form batsman Dinesh Chandimal failed a fitness test and made way for Jeevan Mendis while all-rounder Thisara Perera replaced Shaminda Eranga. Both failed with the bat.
Bhuvneshwar gave India an early breakthrough, the left-handed Kusal Perera paying the price for playing an expansive drive and edging to slips. But what hurt the Lankans was the departure of Tillakaratne Dilshan, who retired after scoring 12 off 14 balls.
The explosive opener had just struck Yadav for boundaries when he pulled up after playing an on-side stroke. Dilshan hobbled off the pitch, clutching his right calf. It was a technical knock-out with Lanka reeling at 17 for two in the fourth over.
Dilshan, of course, returned at the fall of the seventh wicket at 164 in the 48th over, but it didn't help much. He remained not out on 18 off 21 balls.
Image: Ishant Sharma
Photograph: Philip Brown/Reuters