S. Ram Mahesh
All rests on Rahul Dravid-Laxman combination pulling off another miracle
Colombo: India was left hanging to the third Test here at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium by the thinnest of threads — those escape artists, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman, ensuring their side lived to fight another day.
By stumps on the third day, India had made good the first-innings deficit of 147 and opened a narrow 14-run lead. It lost five men in the process, at one stage appearing as if it might surrender the Test — and the series — on Sunday itself.
But Dravid, exercising his immense will, and Laxman, battling with a sprained left ankle, saw out half an hour of Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis, as India’s second innings stayed on life support.
Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag had given the innings a typically robust start, batting fearlessly during the 40-minute period to tea, and taking Chaminda Vaas, Dammika Prasad, and Muralitharan for 57 in nine overs.
But men who live by the sword are apt sometimes to die by it, and Prasad claimed both openers after the interval — Sehwag slicing to be splendidly held at gully; Gambhir inside-edging an ambitious pull — to bring the holiday crowd alive.
Sourav Ganguly, who walked out at four instead of the injured Tendulkar, led a charmed existence. He very nearly ran Dravid out, before appearing to relax.
Dropped at slip off Muralitharan, he charged the off-spinner and hit him for six. He failed in trying to sweep, however, and although he referred the decision, he had to leave.
Parthiv Patel didn’t last long, consumed again by Mendis, and Tendulkar, swollen elbow and all, had to make the trip to the centre. Apart from favouring his left arm when holding the bat before taking strike, Tendulkar showed few visible signs of discomfort, even playing a pair of artful strokes.
But he padded up to a Mendis googly, hiding bat behind pad, to give the mystery spinner his 25th wicket of the series — a record for the most in a debut three-Test series, surpassing Sir Alec Bedser’s 24 in 1946.
Dravid, aside from inside-edging a couple of times, looked solid right from the time he stretched forward to the first ball he faced. He seemed to read Mendis, whipping one googly to mid-wicket, and playing the carom ball ahead of his front pad. Do Dravid and Laxman, the heroes of Kolkata and Adelaide, have another magical partnership in them?
Anil Kumble’s position earlier on Sunday was roughly that of an army general who finds his munitions inadequate and supply lines cut. Ishant Sharma, having suffered a contusion to his glut muscle (a bruised backside, to those of us without medical degrees) on Saturday, realised that he couldn’t support his weight, much less run in and bowl quick.
Ishant’s absence hurt Kumble, robbing the Indian captain of the option of attacking straightaway with the second new ball. The touring side lacked the intensity it started the second day with.
Kumar Sangakkara, who resumed on 107, was allowed singles. Prasanna Jayawardene, reportedly under pressure on account of his batting, was allowed to settle.
Twelve overs with the spinners and Sehwag brought 34 nearly risk-free runs before Zaheer Khan took the second new ball. Zaheer began well, attaining shape away from Sangakkara, but Ishant’s unavailability prevented the building of pressure. Ganguly tried hard, purveying the sort of wobblers that are useful when swing and cut are readily available.
But in less treacherous conditions, Prasanna took a liking to the gentle pace, stepping down the track and smearing it wide of mid-off. The short reply was cut behind point.
A chance wasted
Against the run of play, India was gifted a chance. With Sri Lanka leading by 52, Prasanna and Sangakkara found themselves at cross purposes while running. Rohit Sharma, one of three substitutes, cut the angle adeptly at point, but his throw to the keeper was less than ideal.
Stretched by the stray return, Parthiv Patel fell to his right; the desperate backhand flick to the stumps never materialised. Prasanna, who had set off after playing the stroke, made it back.
Forced to discontinue Ganguly, Kumble brought himself on after seven overs with the second new ball.
He felled Sangakkara, evoking a thin nick off a delivery that broke into the left-hander from around the wicket. Parthiv didn’t take it clean; crucially he didn’t spill it.
Thus ended a seventh-wicket stand of 80, but more was to follow. Prasanna found in Dammika Prasad a wonderfully indecorous stroke-player, who hit it hard and wristy, and smiled after the event. But Prasanna, having spent over two and a half hours playing Sri Lanka into a strong position, engaging in a touchy-feely OCD routine before every ball, missed his half-century.
He flipped Zaheer to deep square-leg. Prasanna’s 49 will hopefully have ensured that his silken wicketkeeping skills aren’t lost to the Test-playing world.
Prasad, after making an exciting 36, was smartly stumped by Parthiv off a rare bit of flight bowling from Harbhajan.
Mendis showed he could handle a bat, if not with authority, then certainly with imagination, before Kumble ended India’s agony in the field by putting a ball through a Mendis sweep.
India — 1st innings: 249
Sri Lanka — 1st innings: M. Vandort lbw b Zaheer 14, M. Warnapura b Ishant 8, C. Vaas c Sehwag b Harbhajan 47, K. Sangakkara c Parthiv b Kumble 144, M. Jayawardene lbw b Harbhajan 2, T. Samaraweera c Parthiv b Zaheer 35, T. Dilshan lbw b Kumble 23, P. Jayawardene c Harbhajan b Zaheer 49, D. Prasad st Parthiv b Harbhajan 36, A. Mendis lbw b Kumble 17, M. Muralitharan (not out) 0; Extras: (b-4, lb-14, nb-1, w-2) 21; Total: (in 134.2 overs) 396.
Fall of wickets: 1-14 (Warnapura), 2-42 (Vandort), 3-137 (Vaas), 4-141 (M. Jayawardene), 5-201 (Samaraweera), 6-244 (Dilshan), 7-324 (Sangakkara), 8-367 (P. Jayawardene), 9-396 (Prasad).
India bowling: Zaheer 32-5-105-3, Ishant 15.3-3-33-1, Harbhajan 40.3-8-104-3, Kumble 41.2-4-123-3, Sehwag 2-0-2-0, Ganguly 3-0-11-0.
India — 2nd innings: G. Gambhir b Prasad 26, V. Sehwag c Samaraweera b Prasad 34, R. Dravid (batting) 46, S. Ganguly lbw b Muralitharan 18, P. Patel lbw b Mendis 1, S. Tendulkar lbw b Mendis 14, V.V.S. Laxman (batting) 17; Extras: (b-1, lb-1, nb-1, w-2) 5; Total: (for five wickets in 45 overs) 161.
Fall of wickets: 1-62 (Sehwag), 2-65 (Gambhir), 3-108 (Ganguly), 4-109 (Parthiv), 5-131 (Tendulkar).
Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 3-0-18-0, Prasad 8-0-46-2, Muralitharan 16-0-56-1, Mendis 18-5-39-2.