Taken to 294 thanks to fifties from Gambhir, Tiwary and Dhoni and 5 wickets to Irfan, India wrapped up the dead rubber over SL.
MS Dhoni and Irfan Pathan inspired India to a 20-run win in the fifth and final one-day international in Pallekele to hand Sri Lanka their second consecutive 4-1 series defeat at home to his team, scoring an emphatic half-century to take India to 294. India's innings had been propped up by a century stand between Gautam Gambhir and Manoj Tiwary, but a collapse of three wickets for 16 runs during the batting Powerplays had threatened to allow Sri Lanka back into the match.
Dhoni snubbed that notion with a bullish 58 off 38 balls in a crucial 77-run stand with Irfan that played a big role in India winning the dead rubber and moving to No. 2 in the ICC rankings for one-day teams. Irfan then shone with the ball, striking crucial blows at either end of Sri Lanka's chase to claim 5 for 61.
A target of 295 was too much for Sri Lanka, who lost Tillakaratne Dilshan for 0 in Irfan's opening over and had half their side gone in 15.1 overs with 102 on the board. Upul Tharanga blazed 31 off 21 balls to help get Sri Lanka's fifty on the board in six overs, but fell in the eighth to give Irfan his second wicket in an opening spell of 5-0-32-2. Dinesh Chandimal went for 8, lbw to Ashok Dinda, and a superb direct hit from Tiwary ran out Sri Lanka's stand-in captain, Angelo Mathews. Zaheer Khan's return during the fielding Powerplay produced an immediate wicket, as Chamara Kapugedera – the replacement for Mahela Jayawardene – was hit plumb in front of the stumps.
Only Lahiru Thirimanne and Jeevan Mendis held firm with 77 and 72 respectively as their team-mates faltered against an Indian attack that was wayward at times, but not lacking in enthusiasm. The sixth-wicket stand produced 102 runs in 20.4 overs, with Thirimanne picking up his pace with three sixes before he ran himself out during the batting Powerplay.
Mendis crossed 50 for the first time in ODIs as Sri Lanka headed into the last ten overs needing an attainable 62, but a double-wicket 43rd over from Irfan left the tail with too much to do. Thisara Perera slashed to deep point and Mendis nicked to Dhoni, and the end wasn't far away. Irfan capped a memorable personal match by bowling Sachitra Senanayake with his final delivery, thereby finishing with 5 for 61, his second ODI five-wicket haul – the previous came in 2005 against Zimbabwe.
Earlier, after winning the toss and batting, India had made a busy start. Gambhir and Ajinkya Rahane – in for Virender Sehwag – put on 29 for the opening wicket before the latter was lbw to Perera for 9 in his comeback innings. Virat Kohli put on 48 with Gambhir before he was beaten for movement by Nuwan Pradeep, and the next to go was Rohit Sharma for 4, bowled by a peach from the same bowler.
Gambhir and Manoj Tiwary met at 87 for 3 and made sure the team could provide some outstanding fight during a steadying 110-run liaison. Gambhir had begun briskly and varied his pace to score an important 88, inclusive of seven crisp boundaries and plenty of sharp running, while Tiwary provided excellent help with superb judgment and swift work between the wickets. Tiwary's best shot was a handsome inside-out drive over extra cover off Mendis – two aerial smashes over mid-off off Senanayake were also impressive – and he was strong on the off side.
Lasith Malinga's return inside the batting Powerplay resulted in two wickets in two balls. A nasty lifted did for Tiwary, who took his eyes off it and popped a catch to short third man, and Suresh Raina inexplicably steered the next ball straight into first slip's lap (197 for 5). Dhoni averted the hat-trick ball by fending it down to the leg side, and immediately began attacking. His second ball faced grazed his helmet before flying down to the boundary, but the third and fourth were driven through extra cover for four to get the Indian captain purring.
With Irfan for company, Dhoni injected the impetus into the innings and helped India score 75 off the final ten overs. His driving and pulling was imperious as he motored along to a fifty off just 34 balls, bringing it up with a rousing six over midwicket off Perera. The Sri Lankan medium-pacer bore the brunt of Dhoni's savagery, conceding three successive fours in one over and giving 21 runs in nine balls bowled to the Indian captain. Dhoni's dismissal for a 38-ball 58 in the penultimate over prevented India from crossing 300, with Irfan not out on 29.
In the end, their alliance proved instrumental in setting up a match-winning total.