Atapattu and Jayawardene ooze class

COLOMBO, AUG. 30. In Sri Lanka, where cricket is more of a celebration, it is not uncommon to hear catchy, racy numbers sung by enthusiastic home supporters during matches.

However, when the smooth-stroking Marvan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene are waltzing in the middle, with their soft hands and deft touch, and it would only be appropriate if the music is far more classical in nature.

Indeed, with their correct, yet flowing ways at the crease, the two Lankans represent a very classical form of batsmanship that is both simple and pure. Sublime stuff really.

At close on the second day of the third Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club stadium, here, on Thursday, Atapattu (108, 228b, 11x4) and Jayawardene (95 not out, 148b, 8x4, 1x5, 1x6) put Lanka in a position of some strength, with the host finishing at 323 for five, already 89 ahead of the Indians.

On conditions that were good for batting, the Lankans called the shots for most part - as many as 310 runs were scored today - and this also puts Muttiah Muralitharan's astonishing eight-wicket haul on Wednesday in the right perspective. An off- spinner causing such havoc on the first day of a Test, before there can be any wear and tear, has to be among the rarest of rare feats.

Some of the strokes produced by Marvan Atapattu today were rare too, like the delightful late cuts, the copy-book off- drives off either foot, and the beautifully-balanced flicks. At ease against both pace and spin, some of the shots produced by the classy Lankan will stay in memory for long.

Like his inside-out cover drive after dancing down the track when leggie Sairaj Bahutule switched to round the wicket, a stroke that actually took him to his seventh Test hundred soon after tea. Earlier, he had delicately back-cut Bahutule to move within a whisker of a century. A shot both innovative and audacious.

The opener had been getting starts without going on to bigger things, not making a half-century in four Tests after a mammoth double hundred against England earlier this year in Galle. ``I was hitting from the middle of the bat, so it was just a matter of spending some time in the middle,'' the likable Lankan said.

Shocking decision

He did just that before a shocking decision by umpire David Orchard cut his innings short. Atapattu pushed forward at Harbhajan, and his bat was tucked well inside the left-pad from which the ball bounced to Shiv Sundar Das at short- leg. The Lankan took the verdict in the right spirit. ``It's a part of the game. I always take it that way.''

In the same breath it must be mentioned that the Indian bowling lacked discipline and the fielding was average with wicket-keeper Sameer Dighe having a horrendous day. Before he could get into his stride, Jayawardene, who attempted to cut the luck-less leggie Sairaj Bahutule, was put down by the Indian 'keeper. And Atapattu was only in his 20s, when a Dinesh Mongia throw from point to the non-striker's end was way off the mark when the opener was well short of home, after being sent back by Kumara Sangakkara.

Jayawardene, fresh from his hundred against the Indians in Kandy, was delightfully innovative too, light of feet and body, quick of reflexes and mind, cutting, driving and pulling with panache. When a batsman plays a shot late, it suggests he has a lot of time, and Jayawardene does have plenty of that.

There was a big blow too from this diminutive batsman when he jumped down the track after tea and lofted Bahutule for a straight six. By the time, Atapattu was ruled out by Orchard, the third-wicket pair had raised 133 crucial runs.

And in the latter stages of the day, Jayawardene and Russell Arnold (31, 39b, 4x4) launched into a series of blistering cuts, before the second new ball saw Venkatesh Prasad, the best of Indian bowlers on view, sneaking one though the Arnold's defence.

There was time enough for Harbhajan to snare night- watchman Dulip Liyanage outside the off-stump, 'keeper Dighe at last holding on to something. And at the fag end of the day, veteran Hashan Tillekeratne, fighting for survival, survived a confident caught behind appeal down-the-leg-side off Ganguly.

The Lankans had to consolidate on the gains made by Muralitharan's astonishing spell, and Sanath Jayasuriya and Atapattu started on a confident note.

The Lankan captain glanced Zaheer fine past the ropes, and Atapattu drove the left-arm seamer down the ground and flicked him to the mid-wicket fence with panache.

However, when spin was introduced from the tennis court end in the form of Harbhajan Singh, Jayasuriya on 25 then, was extremely lucky to survive with the ball from the dangerous off-spinner hitting the left-hander's glove even as he pushed forward, and then bouncing off his right boot to Mohammed Kaif at silly point. The Indians appealed vociferously, but umpire Orchard kept his hand in pocket.

The probing Prasad, reintroduced from the Press Box end, however, singnalled the end of Jayasuriya soon (30, 42m, 4x4), with a fuller-length delivery, close to his body, which the Lankan captain dragged on to his stumps, in his attempt to cut, his strength proving his downfall on this occasion.

India, getting the breakthrough it wanted, pushed for another but Atapattu and No. 3 Kumara Sangakkara had other ideas. The wicket- keeper batsman swept Harbhajan Singh past the ropes to signal Sri Lanka's 50 in 15.4 overs, and Atapattu caressed Prasad through the covers on one of those rare occasions when the Karnataka paceman erred in length.

Prasad operated to a seven-two field with the only men on the leg-side being at mid-on and fine-leg. There was a huge gap in that area, and the bait was clearly laid. The Lankans had perished leg-before playing across the line to the accurate Prasad in Kandy, but this time around, they were in no mood to oblige.

No support for Prasad

Unfortunately from the Indian point of view, Prasad did not receive adequate pace support from Zaheer, with the Baroda paceman bowling on both sides of the wicket, in his anxiety to strike.

Much was expected from Harbhajan Singh, but this was one of the days when the offie could not get into a rhythm, rather the Lankan batsmen did not allow him to settle into one. The Sardar did manage to get a couple of deliveries to turn and bounce sharply, but was not persistent enough.

Sangakkara went after the bowling but enjoyed a huge slice of luck at 29, when he charged down the pitch to leggie Sairaj Bahutule, failed to connect a flighted delivery that held its line, and 'keeper Sameer Dighe fumbled with one of the easiest stumpings imaginable.

The home team went to lunch at 93 for one in 35 overs, soon the 50-run partnership arrived in 87 minutes and it was positive batting from the Lankans.

Sangakkara (47, 100b, 9x4), appeared set for a half- century, but was consumed by Prasad, who set him up for the drive outside the off-stump, the edge taken well by Hemang Badani at second slip, who moved swiftly to his right. The second-wicket pair though had added 71 runs in 103 minutes.

And then came the partnership between Atapattu and Jayawardene, and the game was running away from the Indians, before Sourav's men managed a minor comeback in the last session. Still, a lot more needs to be done.

INDIA - 1st innings: 234

SRI LANKA - 1st innings:

Marvan Attapattu c Das b Harbhajan 108 (310m, 228b, 11x4) Sanath Jayasuriya b Prasad 30 (63m, 42b, 4x4) Kumara Sangakkara c Badani b Prasad 47 (103m, 100b, 9x4) Mahela Jayawardene (batting) 95 (235m, 148b, 8x4, 1x6, 1x5) Russell Arnold b Prasad 31 (58m, 39b, 4x4) Dulip Liyanage c Dighe b Harbhajan 3 (23m, 17b) Hashan Tillekeratne (batting) 0 (9m, 5b) Extras (lb-3, nb-3, w-3) 9 --- Total (for five wkts. in 96 overs) 323 ---

Fall of wickets: 1-48 (Jayasuriya), 2-119 (Sangakkara), 3-252 (Atapattu), 4-310 (Arnold), 5-321 (Liyanage).

India bowling: Zaheer 21-3-105-0 (nb-1, w-1), Prasad 20-6-54-3 (w-2), Harbhajan 30-4-93-2, Ganguly 7-3-12-0 (nb-1), Bahutule 14- 3-54-0 (nb-1), Badani 4-2-2-0.