The Sri Lankans will have an opportunity to rethink strategy as they seek to make history on the final day. It was surprising why off-spin giant Muttiah Muralitharan did not send a single over from the press box end when there was a distinct rough around the left-handed Gautam Gambhir’s off-stump. But then, Friday will be another day for both sides.
The pitch has not disintegrated but if the bowlers hit the right areas there could be a measure of assistance for them due to the natural wear and tear.
Adrift by a massive 334 runs in the first innings, India was 190 for two at stumps on day four of the first Test at Motera on Thursday. Opener Gambhir was batting on 74 (120b, 7x4), complied in a pressure situation. Nightwatchman Amit Mishra was on 12.
India suffered a setback late in the day when a fluent Rahul Dravid (38, 66b, 6x4) fell to left-arm paceman Chanaka Welegedara in a contentious leg-before decision. The ball, shaping in and delivered from round-the-wicket, was missing leg-stump as the replays confirmed.
Highest Test total
Earlier, Sri Lanka declared at a massive 760 for seven, the highest Test total in India. Wicketkeeper batsman Prassana Jayawardene, notching up his second Test hundred, remained unbeaten on 154 (314b, 11x4).
He put a price on his wicket, concentrated hard and grew in confidence as his innings progressed with punches, cuts and pulls. This was an innings of a team-man.
The ethereal Mahela Jayawardene’s 275 (435b, 27x4, 1x6, 1x5) is the highest individual Test score by a visiting batsman in India.
During his innings, he also became the first Sri Lankan to reach 9000 runs in Tests. This is Mahela’s 108th Test and he averages a healthy 54.67.
And the 351-run partnership between the two Jayawardenes here is the highest sixth-wicket association in Tests, beating the time-tested 346-run stand between Don Bradman and Jack Fingleton against England in 1937.
The limitations of the Indian bowling were exposed further. The Indian attack lacked two vital commodities — air speed and flight with dip — required to strike when the pitch does not offer much assistance.
Worse, the bowlers were not disciplined with their line or length. Once again, there were offerings for the batsmen on both sides. Even the new ball, taken almost immediately in the morning, hardly made a difference.
Sri Lanka declared its innings during the second session — perhaps Sangakkara delayed his declaration since the surface did not deteriorate — with at least 134 overs remaining in the match.
Virender Sehwag was up and running, driving and clipping the pacemen past the ropes. He lived dangerously as well; his attempted cut off a rather full Dammika Prasad — the Sri Lankan worked up a lively pace — delivery flew between ’keeper and first slip. He almost ran himself out too. At the other end, the left-handed Gambhir mixed flair with solidity.
Predictably, there was no appreciable movement for the pacemen in the dry afternoon conditions. And the ball was zipping through the fast outfield. There was little margin of error for the bowlers.
Sehwag (51, 67b, 7x4) sizzled with his bat-speed and hand-eye coordination. He was first set up and then dismissed by an intelligent piece of bowling from left-arm spinner Rangana Herath.
The intrepid opener reached his half-century by hitting a Herath delivery, on middle and leg, over mid-wicket for a boundary.
In the same over, Herath flighted another delivery, this time on the off-stump and spinning away. Sehwag attempted to strike against spin only to hole out at deep mid-on.
However, runs continued to come thick and fast. Gambhir, a wonderful player of spin, used his feet to either reach the pitch of the ball or stay back and wait to guide or glide it fine.
Sangakkara soon had a second slip for Gambhir against the spinners, just in case he failed to keep a ball down. However, Gambhir did not falter.
In the latter stages of the day, Sangakkara employed a pace-spin combination to prevent the Indian batsmen from settling into a rhythm. The Indian batsmen will have to be focussed on the final day.