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Updated: December 5, 2009 23:42 IST

India inches from victory

S. Dinakar
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TOPPING A CREST: India's Zaheer Khan celebrates the wicket of Thilan Samarweera with team mate Yuvraj Singh. Sri Lanka were 274 for 6 at the close of the fourth day's play in the third test match at the Brabourne Stadium. Photo: K.R. Deepak
The Hindu TOPPING A CREST: India's Zaheer Khan celebrates the wicket of Thilan Samarweera with team mate Yuvraj Singh. Sri Lanka were 274 for 6 at the close of the fourth day's play in the third test match at the Brabourne Stadium. Photo: K.R. Deepak

India moved closer to the Test summit while Kumar Sangakkara built an innings of rare quality and inspiration on an engaging day's cricket at the Brabourne Stadium.

Sangakkara was captain courageous with his unbeaten 133 as Sri Lanka, fighting back in the last session, ended the fourth day of the third Test at 274 for six in its second innings. The visitor is still 59 runs short of India's lead.

The Indians displayed aggression and intent in the second session. The pacemen and spinners bowled in tandem and the close catchers applied psychological pressure. Mahendra Singh employed a pace-spin combination for most part and switched ends to disrupt the Sri Lankan rhythm on Saturday. There was swing, conventional and reverse, for the pacemen while the spinners extracted turn and bounce.

Batting was not easy and Sri Lanka slumped to 144 for five – the in-form Tillakaratne Dilshan was at the wrong end of another shocking leg-before decision in the morning - at the stroke of tea. But then, Sangakkara was heroic with his response as he rallied with an attacking Prasanna Jayawardene (32) and a stolid Nuwan Kulasekara (nine not out). Kulasekara, though, was fortunate to be given the benefit of doubt when left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha straightened one.

India is poised for a 2-0 series triumph which would bring with it the No. 1 ranking in Tests but will have to reckon with the Sangakkara factor on day five. The Sri Lankan captain's maiden Test hundred on Indian soil oozed character. Sangakkara's batting has balance and fluidity. He possesses an easy, relaxed stance, his feet movement is precise and head still, and has this lovely extension of the willow. The Sri Lankan skipper picks the length quickly.

He has an initial trigger movement forward but does not commit himself. Sangakkara can transfer weight on to his back-foot effortlessly. On more than one occasion, both Ojha and Harbhajan, taken in by Sangakkara's initial movement, pitched a touch short but were cut or punched off the back-foot. The Sri Lankan captain also danced down the track to thump Ojha over long-on , drove the spinner through covers and whipped him on-the-walk. He straight-drove Sreesanth and showed slick hands and reflexes to upper- cut the paceman over the cordon.

Zaheer Khan too was driven and flicked handsomely. Sangakkara also took calculated risks, striking over the in-field. He reached his 21{+s}{+t} Test hundred by wristing Zaheer over mid-wicket. The sizable crowd applauded.

Earlier, Zaheer Khan impressed. Crafty seam and swing bowling is a lot about harnessing the angles. The experienced Zaheer Khan operated with skill, tact and precision in a crucial burst after lunch. Zaheer's delivery from over-the-wicket pitched around middle and off and darted away from the right-handed Mahela Jayawardene. The Sri Lankan, feeling for the ball, nicked. Not much later, Zaheer switched to round-the-wicket against Thilan Samaraweera. The trap was laid.

Samaraweera is more comfortable on his front foot and Zaheer dug one in short, getting the ball climb into the Sri Lankan. Pushed back and done in by the combination of line and bounce, Samaraweera edged for V.V.S. Laxman to hold a fine, low catch at second slip. And Sreesanth swung the ball away, forced batsmen to dig out Yorkers and charged in from round-the-wicket to make them smell leather with his short-pitched stuff. He nailed a well-set Tharanga Paranavitana (54) with a delivery that swung late into the southpaw from off-stump.

Ojha impressed in phases. The dismissals of Angelo Mathews and Prasanna Jayawardene highlighted two vital elements of his bowling – the away spinner and the one that straightens. Ojha foxed Mathews with a classical left-arm spinner's delivery of flight, drift and sharp turn from just outside off-stump. Dhoni held his 100th catch in Tests.

Ohja then prised out a fluent Prassana Jayawardene, who played for spin, with a delivery that pitched in line and straightened. In the morning, Dilshan thrust his front pad at a Harbhajan delivery that spun in from outside off and umpire Daryl Harper upheld a vociferous Indian appeal. Replays showed the ball missing leg-stump by a mile.

Harbhajan turned the ball away tellingy from the left-handers from the round-the-wicket but seemed less effective against the right-handers. His length suffered on occasions. For Sri Lanka, left-handed opener Paranavitana batted with a fair measure of resolve and flair. The forward press is an important aspect of his game and he was meeting the ball confidently. Once again, he could not consolidate on a start.

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