It was a classical day's Test cricket at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium here, on Thursday. Fortunes swung one way, then the other. On a double-paced surface where the ball spun, bounced and kept low on occasions, the third Test of the Micromax series was delicately poised at the conclusion of a captivating third day.
Sri Lanka was 45 for two in its second innings at stumps. Earlier, there was sting in the Indian tail as the side, making 436, grabbed an 11-run lead over the host.
Importantly for India, Virender Sehwag struck twice in a dramatic final stretch of the day after reaching his 21st Test century in the morning. The vastly underrated off-spinner bowled a telling line from round the wicket to consume left-handed opener Tharanga Paranavitana with a delivery that left the batsman.
Then, Tillekaratne Dilshan was splendidly held by a diving Murali Vijay at forward short leg after the batsman edged a spinning ball to his pad. Dilshan had been fortunate to survive a leg-before shout when left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha got a delivery to drift into him. Ojha also spun a couple of deliveries sharply away from the right-handers.
It was an eventful day. Sri Lankan skipper Kumar Sangakkara (12 batting) became the quickest batsman to reach 8000 Test runs during his brief unbeaten stay. The technically refined left-hander has achieved the feat in 152 innings.
India lost Sachin Tendulkar (41) and Sehwag (109) early but recovered through a strokeful 105-run association for the fifth-wicket between the wristy V.V.S. Laxman (56) and the impressive Suresh Raina (62). Sri Lanka, then, hit back through spinner Ajantha Mendis.
There was another twist. A combative 65-run partnership for the eighth-wicket between Abhimanyu Mithun (46) and Amit Mishra (40) kept India in the hunt.
Mithun got behind the line and was refreshingly positive in his approach. Dropped at third slip by Angelo Mathews off Lasith Malinga when on four, Mishra applied himself. The grit shown by the two as Malinga let rip with the second new ball was the feature of the partnership. The two were struck painful blows but put a price on their wicket.
The spirited Mithun was, perhaps, unlucky to be adjudged caught at backward short-leg when off-spinner Suraj Randiv spun one sharply across him; there were doubts whether the ball brushed Mithun's glove off his thigh pad.
Mishra, finally, lost his patience to be held at the deep off Randiv and then Ishant Sharma was at the wrong end of a dreadful bat-pad decision by umpire Rod Tucker. Ironically, Mr. Tucker reversed his earlier verdict.
In the afternoon, Mendis bowled from round the wicket in an effort to get the ball to kick up from a rough developing outside the batsman's leg-stump. As a variation, he also got his carrom ball to spin away from the right-hander. Laxman fell into the trap, edging a glide to Mahela Jayawardene's alert hands at slip.
Spinning the ball into the left-handed Raina, Mendis struck again. The ball also stopped and bounced as Raina miscued to short mid-wicket.
Mixing it up
Then, Malinga took out Mahendra Singh Dhoni with a well-directed short-pitched delivery. Attempting to hook, the Indian captain gloved the ball to the 'keeper. Malinga mixed his hostile short-pitched deliveries with some searing toe-crushers.
India began the day disastrously after Sachin Tendulkar, with minimal feet movement, attempted to dab a Malinga delivery well outside the off-stump.
Sehwag pulled Randiv to reach his 21st Test century. He might often walk the tightrope, but Sehwag has come up with a half-century or more in each of his last 10 Tests. The blazing opener attempted an extravagant cover-drive off Randiv - perhaps he was undone by the double pace of the track - only to hole out.
Randiv had been unlucky not to win a leg-before shout against Sehwag earlier. The lanky bowler, with his high-arm action, was able to extract appreciable bounce from the pitch. The ball also tended to stop as it rose from the surface.
Not easy conditions
Batting was not easy. There was purchase for the spinners and fielders surrounded the bat. While the experienced Laxman has dealt with these situations before, Raina, in only his second Test, displayed character.
He was composed in the cauldron, was firm off either foot. Raina got to the pitch of the ball with precise footwork and used the depth of the crease. An off-drive off Mendis sped to the fence.
Malinga did test Raina with some short-pitched stuff but the left-hander held firm. Importantly, he attempted to be in a side-on position as the ball flew past him. Laxman is easy on the eye and has the gift of timing. He wrested Mendis past the mid-wicket fence and leaned into his drives. And he defended with soft hands.
Keywords: India-Sri Lanka Test series