Archive for November, 2009

Daggers won’t be out if we say that Sreesanth was the architect-in-chief for the facile Indian win at Kanpur. The statement turns more authentic considering the nicety to which the pitch behaved, throwing any doubts over its longevity out of the window. The Sri Lankan collapse in both the innings had more to do with lack of application from their batsmen and the quality of Indian bowling, rather than the wicket’s conduct.

A win for India was assured but how much time it would take coming wasn’t. That was the mindset with which proceedings began on day 4. Zaheer’s bounce-them-out plan worked one more time for him. Mathews became his latest prey when he fended off a rib-crasher and Dravid lunged forward to take the catch at backward point.

The Sri Lankan batsmen took an offensive approach on the fourth morning, as there wasn’t much to gain through defence, with two days remaining.  While the tactic did produce quick runs, it also meant that India were in with a chance to pick wickets regularly. A defiant 61-run sixth wicket partnership between Samaraweera and Prasanna was broken when Bhajji sneaked one through Prasanna’s defences to rattle the stumps. Six down and out came Sri Lanka’s tail.

The highlight of tailenders’ antics was Murali’s 11-ball cameo of 29 after Herath’s dismissal, which was punctuated with three fours and two sixes. Ojha finally succeeded in sending him back to bring Mendis in. Samaraweera was enjoying his best time in the series but for a lost cause. At first, he tried to shield Mendis but finally showed confidence in him to share strike.

Mendis reciprocated his senior’s trust and annoyed the Indians by delaying the impending doom. The longer he batted, the more disappointment it brought to Sri Lanka’s top order that failed twice. His stint reflected there was nothing in the pitch to be wary of. The partnership was competent to the point that Dhoni had to resort to the part-timers Tendulkar and Yuvraj. To his credit, the change worked and Yuvraj removed Mendis leg before wicket after a 73-run ninth wicket stand.  Ojha was brought back to bring forth India’s 100th Test win. He responded to the skipper’s call and got his team home with a return catch from Welegedara.

The dismissal led to ecstatic scenes on and off the ground. The debutant pulled out a stump as souvenir and there were congratulations and handshakes all around.  It was Dhoni’s sixth win out of nine Tests as skipper and put an end to Sangakkara’s unbeaten record as captain. The win, by an inning and 144 runs, was India’s biggest against Sri Lanka and third biggest overall.

It was a special match for Sreesanth as well. He came back amidst a lot of raised eyebrows but answered all the question about his inclusion. Rahul Dravid needs a special mention too, not for his second hundred on the trot but for the way he continues to show his uncharacteristic but pleasing attacking skills in this series. Gautam Gambhir is now already an established name in world’s most fearsome and consistent openers. The Delhi batsman will be sorely missed in the final Test at Mumbai, owing to his sister’s marriage. Ojha impressed too in his debut and is surely the first-choice left-armer in the country.

Sri Lanka can’t win the series now but still have a chance to level it. However, the Mumbai wicket has traditionally helped spinners a lot and if the familiar orange-tinged pitch is presented, the Lankan batsmen will have their task cut out against Indian spinners who seem to be coming into their own on the back of a potent new-ball attack.

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All hell broke loose for visitors from the island nation on day two, which saw them losing 13 wickets and almost certainly the match. All this when the pitch didn’t behave badly and still looked good for batting but India rediscovered a potent weapon who wrecked havoc in the Sri Lankan camp. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth transformed into a whiz kid and fastened a tag of five-for to his return match after an interlude of 18 months.

Honestly, Sree looked pretty rusty to start off last evening but came back with a purposeful intent on the second morning. He should have got Mahela early but the edge went straight between Dhoni and Tendulkar at first slip. Things fell in place for Sreesanth from the sixth over of the day when he got one to take the edge of Paranavitana’s bat and land into Dhoni’s gloves. The termination of 82-run partnership brought the stanch Mahela Jayawardene to the pitch. Two of the most accomplished Lankan batsmen were now together and if there was a partnership that Sri Lanka wanted to flourish, this was it.

Sreesanth, though, was on a different planet and getting the old ball to reverse swing by now. He got rid of Sangakkara and Samaraweera in quick succession, both of whom played-on. While Sangakkara was out driving, Samaraweera chased a wide one and was out cutting. At 111/4, alarm bells were ringing for Sri Lanka and the scare of following on could become a reality.

Mahela was taking care of Indian bowlers pretty well, but a surprise was thrown by promoting Mathews ahead of the in-form Prasanna Jayawardene.  Harbhajan made Sri Lanka pay the price for that gamble with a peach of a delivery and picked up Mathews as the fourth Sri Lankan wicket to go down in the morning session. Mahela and Prasanna then safely closed out the session at a score of 138/5.

India came back after lunch to take further control but the Lankan tomb was resolutely guarded by the Jayawardenes. They steadily put together a 50-run partnership, but on the verge of posting team’s 200 on the board, they again found Sreesanth in the way. Dhoni’s move to bring him back paid immediately when Prasanna chased one outside off and consequently edged it to the Indian skipper.

Six down at 194, Herath moved in heading the long list of tailenders. Mahela’s dilemma to whether shift gears or keep plugging his end up brought out another bad shot. Ojha – bowling an immaculate line and length – drew Mahela out, who failed to clear mid-on and Sachin made a timely jump to catch him. Murali made his way out of the shades with a signature smile on his face. By now, a wicket seemed like coming every ball, with Murali’s adventurous strokes on show. However, it was Herath who had to take the long walk back when he was bowled by Sreesanth. That was the fifth one for Sreesanth, making it a five-star return for the prodigy. Tea was taken with Sri Lanka at 219/8.

It was a matter of time that Sri Lanka were bowled out and Ojha and Harbhajan performed the last rites, packing them up for 229. This gave India a lead of 413 and Dhoni the option to ask his neighbors to follow on. The Indian skipper rightly opted for the same, riding on the confidence of an elephantine lead.

Batting out two days to save the match or even erase a lead of 413 seemed too high a mountain to climb. Hope for Lanka came from the fact that the pitch still was playing okay. Yes, it was slow and low at times but not breaking up to raise any eyebrows. Application was the key but batsmen like Dilshan believe in going after the bowlers rather than letting them come at you. But while going in with this intent in the second inning, Dilshan probably forgot that Sreesanth was a different bowler from yesterday.

It was an unplayable delivery by Sreesanth that foxed Dilshan into an edge and gave India an early breakthrough. At a moment when Paranavitana and Sangakkara harbored hopes of seeing off the day, Dhoni surprised them by asking Sehwag to deliver. Sehwag didn’t disappoint his captain and trapped Paranavitana in front in his very first over. It was 37/2 and Sri Lanka’s best willow-wielders were together for the second time in the same day. They had to stay on to the close of play for Sri Lanka to have any hope of saving this match.

Their attempt at adding the 18th run of their partnership proved fatal. Sangakkara pushed one straight to Yuvraj and took off when there was no run. Mahela hesitated but responded to the skipper’s call. There was no way he could have made it and was found well short of his ground. This was a calamity for Sri Lanka who now had the last two recognised batsmen in the middle.

The mistake Sangakkara committed in running Mahela out was still playing on his mind. It’s not the best state of mind to play two probing Indian spinners. Lightning struck once again in the visitors’ lounge when Sangakkara played-on yet again, this time to Harbhajan.  The team was all over Harbhajan and the crowd jumping up and down. At 57/4 while following on and still 356 run behind, it will be foolish to think of anything else than India going 1-0 up in the series. All that’s left to be seen is how quickly India can do it and how big the win will be.

A transcendent Rahul Dravid became the torch-bearer of India’s charge towards an imposing first inning score of 642 on the second day of the Kanpur Test. Knitting a 94-run stand with overnight partner Sachin Tendulkar, the taskmaster never gave the islanders even a semblance of a chance and eased past another Test hundred.

Dravid’s offensive approach in the series so far invokes a thought that ‘The Wall’ intends to send across a message that he is still in reckoning to play 2011 World Cup. He was clearly the dominant partner in this partnership as well, considering Sachin’s first boundary came off the 87th ball he faced. The master blaster got out soon after to Mendis’ carom ball, scoring 40.

VVS marched in to partner Dravid. Though he took his time to get used to the pitch’s slowness, Dravid found holes in the field at will, which ensured a healthy run rate. They took the team total past 500 and it was difficult to see any Lankan dislodging them. At this juncture came a fortunate moment for Sri Lanka. Laxman came out of his crease to Herath and hit the ball straight at him. The ball went straight through Herath’s hands to disturb the stumps at the nonstriker’s end and Dravid was found backing up way too far.

A run out, and that too in the most bizarre fashion, was probably the only way Dravid could have got out. India’s big-hundred man was dismissed for 144, at a time when he was looking good for many more. We all know Yuvraj’s edgy nature when he embarks against spin. Acknowledging that, along with the wicket’s slowness and the approaching lunch, he wisely chose to curb his aggressive instincts and went for lunch with Laxman at a healthy total of 535/4.

With India safely in no-defeat zone, the match too was in predictable territory, where a team first bats normally until tea and then tries to launch big hits before declaring an hour after tea. There were still no signs of pitch turning and runs were coming at will for Laxman and Yuvraj. By the time they completed their half tons, the Indian inning seemed to be on a cruise mode.

In an effort to stifle the Indian ease, Sri Lankan bowlers put together a nice period of tight 10-odd overs with the field up. The plan worked and helped Herath pull Laxman (63) out of his crease to slice one to mid-off for Dilshan. By then, India had already piled up an imposing 613 runs and with five wickets still in hand, looked to go into an overdrive.

Dhoni’s arrival to the crease was punctuated with cheers that we are accustomed to hear for Sachin. The roar kind of ascertained the stature he enjoys in India and world cricket. But the sense of relaxation that comes with such a high total got the better of Dhoni. He lunged forward to defend a Herath delivery which sneaked through his bat and pad to meet his stumps and send him back for just four. Harbhajan (5) met an identical end to give Herath his third hard-earned wicket. So from 613/4, Indian slipped to 639/7 at the stroke of tea interval.

Fortunately for India, the stutter coincided with upcoming declaration from Dhoni and if there was a collapse after lunch, it could well turn out to be a timely one. From spectators’ point of view, Yuvraj was still on the wicket and there was every chance of Yuvi radiations destroying Sri Lanka. To everyone’s dismay, events didn’t unfold the Indian way. On the contrary, India lost the remaining three wickets adding just three runs after tea. This meant that India lost its last 6 wickets for just 29 runs. While Yuvraj (67) was incredibly well caught by Sangakkara at mid wicket, Zaheer and Sreesanth became the two victims Herath required to complete his five-for.  The scorecard showed India all out for 642.

The slip didn’t cost India much but it ended Sri Lanka’s bowling effort on a good note, giving Herath five wickets for 121 runs and bringing smiles on dog-tired Lankan faces.

The wrapping up of Indian innings in double-quick time on either side of Tea meant that Sri Lanka had almost a full session of 24 overs left to play out. This was also an opportunity for India to take a few quick wickets and give Sri Lanka a sleepless night. As Zaheer ran in with a shining red cherry in hand, the unexpected happened.  A gentle loosener outside the leg stump to Dilshan was edged straight up in the air and the debutant Pragyan Ojha made no mistake to take his first Test catch. Sri Lanka 0/1 and Indian right on top.

Sangakkara could sense the spring in the stride of Indians as he came in to bat. Another early wicket here and Sri Lankan innings could be in shambles. Zaheer was immaculate as usual with his probing line and length but the comeback kid Sreesanth looked pretty rusty. While his seam position remained a treat to watch on slow motion, his line was all over the place that gave Sri Lanka much-needed boundaries.

The skipper gave Paranavitana all the confidence he needed and egged him on to stay put whenever the latter played a false shot. The short spells bowled by Harbhajan and Ojha were a treat to watch. This was the most promising Harbhajan looked in recent times but was unlucky to not get the umpire’s agreement on a couple of close shouts. Ojha bowled well in tandem with him and kept asking questions.

Sangakkara and his partner successfully negotiated the iffy period before close of play and remained not out to come back fresh tomorrow at 66/1. The most anticipated third day will tell us how much the pitch changes, if any, and whether the Indian bowlers learned from their mistakes in the previous game to put Sri Lanka under pressure.

There are two things about the minutes of day one’s meeting between India and Sri Lanka in the second Test at Kanpur. One, it was dominance ad infinitum by India and second, a Sri Lankan victory seems to be in permanent abeyance.

An alleged slow, low wicket became a source of loot for Indian batsmen who ransacked Lankan bowlers to improve upon their personal record set in the last match. The total ending day one, which stood at 417/2, is the best India has garnered in a single day of a Test and has kicked Sri Lanka into submission.

The proceedings in the opening hour of India’s first inning – after Dhoni won an all-important toss – were in striking contrast with what unfolded in the rest of the day. With Prasad out with a hamstring injury, Welegedara had a makeshift partner in Angelo Mathews, as the think-tank replaced Prasad with a third spinner in the eleven, Ajantha Mendis. To their credit, the new-ball attack looked pretty effective.

It’s hard to recall when was Sehwag so undecisive about his strokes in the past. He could have been back in the hut as early as the fourth ball of the day when he edged one to the slip cordon. His good fortune earned him a reprieve when one Jayawardene (Prasanna) leaped in front of another (Mahela) who was ready to lap it up. Instead, it went through Mahela’s hands, giving Sehwag a single to open his account. Gambhir, in contrast, got a hang of the wicket early and appeared assertive in both attack and defence. Arrival of the drinks cart ended the first hour on an even keel. The Indian openers grafted 39 runs in 12 overs, while the Sri Lankan pacers appeared penetrative.

The energy drink did wonders for Gambhir and Sehwag. The match moved onto a different planet altogether, as in the next 14 overs before lunch, Indian openers plundered 92 runs. Out of these, 73 runs were taken off 9 overs of spin by Murali, Mendis and Herath. The luncheon interval came as relief for Sri Lanka who were hit for 131 runs without a wicket going down and both batsmen past fifty.

Sri Lankan tactics remained futile even after lunch. Sehwag and Gambhir continued with their aggressive intent, cutting, driving and lifting both pacers and spinners with consummate ease. Soon both of them came within striking distance of their respective hundreds. While Gambhir chose to approach it with singles, Sehwag continued to exhibit the attacking bones in his body. He kept hitting and at 97, sent another one across the ropes to get to the three figures.

Arguably one of the best opening partnerships in world cricket, Sehwag and Gambhir went past 200 in just the 38th over, a run rate well over five. At a time when even cross-batted Sehwag strokes were earning him boundaries, Muralitharan managed to lure him into an inside-out shot at extra cover where Dilshan was positioned. He took a smart catch to cost India Sehwag’s wicket against the run of play. His sublime knock of 131came off just 122 balls, with 18 fours and 2 sixes. The scoreboard showed India 233/1.

At Dravid’s arrival, Gambhir was just three short of a hundred. His ninth Test ton came in style as he came down to a flighted one from Herath to smash it past Dravid to the long-off boundary. Gambhir’s consistency has played a major role in India’s climb up the ladder in every form of the game and this knock was no different, as it put India in a state of authority. What was more pleasing was his approach after the century. He comes across as a thinking cricketer and knew that it’s just the first day of the Test and he needed to turn it into a real biggie. At tea, India had posted 307 for the loss of Sehwag’s wicket, with Gambhir at 140 and Dravid at 32.

Dravid and Gambhir had an answer to every tactic Sri Lanka employed against them after tea. Dravid smartly kept rotating the strike to give more of it to Gambhir who was unstoppable. The century partnership for the second wicket brought along Dravid’s half century and 150 for the Delhi Daredevils’ skipper. It was only a piece of magic from Murali that got him and Sri Lanka second wicket of the Indian innings at the score of 367. Gambhir (167) pushed a fullish delivery towards mid-off slightly in air, but the legendary spinner was agile enough to leap to his right to pull off a stunning one-handed catch.

With 15 overs still left and new ball due in another five, night watchman could never be a good idea. Tendulkar striding in confirmed it and the crowd gave up their reclining postures to welcome the national hero. A big first inning score was already on the cards, but a dismissal of either of these two would have instilled some hope for survival of a sinking Lankan ship.

Sachin and Dravid had other ideas and were unyielding in their approach. New ball was a choice but Sangakkara had to decide on how much used new-ball he needs on the next morning. He chose to take it in the 87th over, so as to keep it relatively virgin for the subsequent morning’s freshness.

India registered 400 for the first time in a single day of its Test cricket history. It doesn’t happen often that a team not only scores 400 but loses only a couple of wickets in doing so. With eight wickets still in hand at 417/2 and a well-set pair of Dravid 85 and Tendulkar 20 at the crease, the Indian team looks to be brewing something real big on the second day. Wonder where Sri Lanka can find an opportunity to fight on a pitch expected to break up and let snakes out from day three onwards.

The final day of the first Test saw the night watchman Amit Mishra guarding his wicket in the morning. To do his job, he had a resolute Gautam Gambhir with him. Like the previous four mornings, the batting team had to keep the early morning scare at bay.

It was an ideal situation for Mishra to display his batting skills, as a win for Indian was almost out of the equation. He had no added pressure of scoring runs. So the message was to kill time. The plan was executed to perfection and the duo didn’t give Sri Lanka an early breakthrough that they were after. They played out the first 10 overs of the day without being discomforted by Sri Lankan antics.

Success did come Lanka’s way in the 11th over of the day, more because of Dilshan’s brilliant reflexes than Mathews’ bowling guile. Mishra’s nice-looking clip off the legs was caught single-handedly by Dilshan, bringing the curtains down on his ideal time-killing knock of 24. The scorecard read India 209/3.

Sachin came out to bat on a wicket that had no snakes in it and the crowd looked forward to another record coming their hero’s way; this time, 30,000 international runs. For the time being, however, Gambhir’s approaching century was the focus of crowd’s attention. The southpaw didn’t disappoint his fans either and got to his ton, which could well turn out to be a match-saving effort. He must have been a relieved man going into lunch in Sachin’s company, with Indian losing just one wicket in that session, that too of a night watchman.

In all probability, the match was heading towards a bleak draw, unless Sangakkara still had some tricks up his sleeve. The post-lunch session didn’t begin auspiciously for Indian. The break went against the centurion Gambhir (114) who chipped down the track to Herath to loft him against the spin. The poor shot selection saw him chipping it up straight to mid-off, where Prasad pouched it safely. This wicket reduced the scorecard to 275/4, with 49-run lead still left to be erased.

Sri Lanka must have sniffed a slight chance at this juncture. Laxman was short on confidence and on a pair. If the Lankans could exploit that and in the course pick him up quickly, it could make the game interesting. Laxman’s good fortune was that he had the master blaster for company, whose advice could serve him well.

The run rate was never a concern but still the Sri Lankans tied Indians up at both ends. Though the new ball was available now, Sangakkara chose to let his spinners – Murali and Herath – bowl in tandem for a few overs more. The 35th run scored by Sachin saw him scale the peak of 30,000 international runs. His nearest rival, Ricky Ponting, is a good 6,000 runs behind.

It was at the end of the 84th over that Sangakkara chose to take the second new ball. He summoned Welegedara and Prasad to partner each other.  They bowled a good line and length but Sachin and Laxman knew that once they knock the leather off this cherry, it will be all over for Sri Lanka, considering there was no help from the wicket for the spinners.

The seamers’ edges were smartly blunted by the Indian batsmen. Consequently, Sangakkara had no option left but to return to his spinners. Herath and Murali were again pressed into service after just seven overs with the new ball for the fast bowlers. By then, Sachin and Laxman had got their eyes firmly in and looked to milk the Lankan spinners.

Sachin went past his 50 and with tea break approaching, the Sri Lankan body language suggested they had resigned to the fact.  Subsequently, the players walked back to the dressing room for the tea break with India 341/4 and in safe territory.

The rule book says that if the umpires foresee an imminent draw an hour after tear, then – with the consent of both the captains – they can declare the match as drawn. Sachin’s approach after lunch, however, suggested that he was after his 43rd Test century.  He plundered Murali for a couple of fours in his first over after tea and quickly moved onto 65, crossing out any possibility of Dhoni agreeing to Sangakkara’s offer.

Laxman’s role was clear and that was to keep his wicket intact but he too picked up his scoring rate slightly after Tea.  Soon, boundaries started coming India’s way every other over and Laxman was seen approaching his 50 and Sachin his century. That’s when Sangakkara decided to make it tough for them to reach their personal landmarks.

With spin at one end and pace at another, he asked his bowlers to resort to a no-scoring line and length. In other words, negative tactics of bowling outside the leg stump by Herath and outside the off stump by Welegedara were employed. The question to be asked from Sangakkara is that was it beyond Sachin to outthink a bowler when he has scored 30,000 runs spanning across 20 years of international cricket.

Patience is Sachin’s virtue and we know he doesn’t like losing battles, whether it’s personal or for the team’s cause. Here, it was both. So that bucked him up even further. At the other end, Laxman got to his half century and was enjoying the battle. The result was already known, but nobody left the ground to miss this cat-and-mouse game and a possible Sachin century.

Expectedly, Sachin had the last laugh and at 99, with a gentle push to mid-off, he caught the fielder napping to complete his 43rd Test century. And that was it! The players and umpires shook hands, declaring the match as a draw.

In hindsight, there is one thing coming out of this lifeless draw that needs special attention: It’s the 22-yard pitch. If ODIs and T20s need batting paradises, then Test matches need strips providing an even contest. Tests can ill-afford such placid tracks where the bat dominates all the way. If there is one format where bowlers’ interest can’t be written off, it’s Test cricket. ODIs and T20s are about big hits and huge totals, but Test cricket is more about dismissing an opponent twice. For that, the pitch needs to assist the bowlers, may be not on the first two days but definitely on days three through fifth.

So the bosses need to make note of grounds which have been repeatedly providing such tracks for Test matches. The pitch at these venues should be re-laid with input from curators around the world. Hundreds and double hundreds are good to watch but what’s not good is seeing only the batters dominate the Test arena. It’s like spelling doom for Test cricket!

Walking onto the playing field, umpires had the third new ball for the Sri Lankan innings in their pocket. It was available to Dhoni and his bowlers right away after the 160th over completed last evening. There was hope but then there were Mahela and Prasanna too, riding on their double century and half century respectively. The Indian skipper took the new red cherry from the second ball of the day.

The Sri Lankan lead was 165, with five more batsmen available to lengthen it. The plan for the islanders was the same. Preserve wickets for the first hour and then take it from there. The wicket was still good for batting, with nothing in it for the bowlers even on the fourth day. Must say that’s the last thing Test cricket needs, as it leads to dreary draws. Sri Lanka hoped otherwise and the Jayawardenes kept on adding to the Lankan run bank.

En route, Prasanna completed his second Test century and Mahela went past the milestone of 250. Will he score a triple? That was the question on everyone’s mind. However, Sangakkara did need to think about declaration at some stage because time too was getting lesser by the minute. Taking 10 Indian wickets on a batting track won’t be easy.

Talking of Indian bowlers, Mishra continued to be a big disappointment. He looked pedestrian at whatever he tried and seemed to be left with no more questions to ask from the Lankan willow-wielders. Frustratingly, Harbhajan looked the same and that’s where it was hurting India. He was supposed to hold the key to India bowling out Sri Lanka twice but it remained a distant possibility. The Indian bowlers could blame it on the wicket but not completely, after all the skills they honed – in particular Harbhajan – over the years should have come in handy.

The body language suggested that India was waiting for a wicket instead of trying for it. Finally, a little lapse in concentration from Mahela (275) got Mishra his first wicket when he bowled the top run-getter of the match. By then, Sri Lanka had already registered their highest total in a Test in India, which stood at 726/6 at the stroke of Mahela’s dismissal. The partnership of 351 for the sixth wicket between the two Jayawardenes was also a new world record.

The crowd was hoping for Sangakkara to call his men back at that time, but it didn’t happen, possibly because Prasanna was getting close to 150. It’s a norm that is now seen with only subcontinent teams. Whenever personal landmarks are within arm’s reach, it seems to supersede the team’s need. Ideally, Mahela’s wicket should have brought the declaration but then again Prasanna’s personal landmark came in team’s way. Sadly, that’s the kind of thinking that has got associated with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and should be wiped off from our players’ minds.

As it turned out to be the case, Prasanna’s feat of 154 and Prasad’s (21) wicket brought out the comeback signal from Sangakkara an hour after lunch, with his team’s scorecard reading a mammoth 760/7, which calculates to a lead of 324 runs for Sri Lanka. The Indian bowling card didn’t have too much talking points and showed Zaheer, Ishant and Harbhajan taking a couple of wickets each and a Mishra a solitary one.

It didn’t require rocket science to make out that India had their backs to the wall. Behind 324 runs and a prospect of Muralidharan on a wearing fourth and fifth day pitch were reasons enough for India’s top brass to buckle down. The best a team can muster from this situation is a draw and that’s what the whole of cricket-mad India hoped for.  

The first requisite for India was a solid opening stand from Sehwag and Gambhir. Although the situation warranted risk-free approach, we knew Sehwag doesn’t endorse that thought whatever the situation may be. But then, he too knew the situation and needed to curb some of his aggressive instincts. He didn’t disappoint and got to his half century quickly and that’s when Sehwag should have planned a long inning instead of the heave-ho he played against Herath. It went straight up and was easily caught by Mathews in the circle. India: 81/1.

India’s first-inning hero, Rahul Dravid, was welcomed to the crease with cheers of hope that he would do it for the second time in a row. He began from where he left, fluent in his drives, cuts and flicks. Gambhir kept the other end pretty secure while picking up ones and twos to complete the 50-run partnership with ‘The Wall’. He also got to his half century along the way, as India looked certain to go into the fifth day just one wicket down.

Lightning struck when the clouds seemed to be clearing and Welegedara accounted for Dravid (38) in the second inning as well, trapping him in front. However, the replays showed that it was too marginal a call and batsmen should have got the benefit of doubt. Mr. Dependable’s dismissal raised questions whether Indian would be able to save the match or Sri Lanka would register a historic win. To help do the former, Dhoni decided to shield Sachin Tendulkar and others and sent Mishra in as night watchman. This reminded us of a trend that has got outdated but came out as a relieving surprise for Indian fans, especially those who were planning to come to ground on the final day.

Mishra (12 not out) negotiated the remaining few overs safely along with Gambhir (74 not out) and two made their way to the pavilion with 190 on board and eight wickets in hand.

Considering the good state of wicket for the batsmen, an out-of-form Murali and the core of Indian batting to come, it seems safe to say that this match is heading towards a draw, unless this game of glorious uncertainties has another one in store for us.

Pitch curator’s belief about the behavior of Motera pitch materialized on day three of the first Test between India and Sri Lanka.  “It will be best for batting on day two and three,” he envisaged on the opening day. Day two wasn’t hunky-dory at all for India, and the islanders bagged most of the honors, with both bat and ball.

Mahela and Samaraweera began proceedings with what happened on the morning of day one and two at the back of their mind.  They prioritized preservation of wickets for the first hour while Indians looked at completing 80 overs of the Lankan inning and take the new ball. It was taken just two balls into the 81st over but by then, the two batters had safely negotiated the early-morning threat posed by the pitch and completed their half centuries.

The fresh cherry did, in fact, do the trick and provided the much-needed breakthrough in the form of Samaraweera (70) who was brilliantly snapped up by Yuvraj Singh off Ishant Sharma at square leg. The Indian strategy to bounce Lankans out had worked so far, as Samaraweera became the third batsmen to be dismissed off short-pitched stuff. Promising all-rounder Angelo Mathews made his way to the wicket to give Mahela the support he needed. Mathews (17) didn’t really live up to his expectations though and became Harbhajan’s first victim of the series.

Sri Lanka’s score at this stage was 375/5, needing 51 more to overhaul the Indian total. Two two Jayawardenes – Mahela and Prasanna – were now on the crease. Another wicket here would have exposed the tail and that’s where India had a chance.

The Indian hopes kept disappearing into thin air as the two started piling on the runs. Where one Jayawardene (Mahela) has been difficult to control for India over the years, they now had two to deal with. The elegant former skipper completed his ton, fuelling thoughts of a substantial lead over the Indians.

The Jayawardenes remained unseparated at tea and enjoyed a 100–run partnership with an overall lead of 57 runs. Returning after tea, their sole objective was to see off the final session without giving Indians another wicket. It must be said that they didn’t get bogged down in doing so; rather kept playing their shots, hitting an odd boundary whenever the opportunity presented itself.

The fact that the Indians resorted to negative tactics of bowling outside the leg stump – courtesy Amit Mishra and Sachin Tendulkar – clearly showed how inept the Indian bowling effort had been, partly due to an unsporting wicket hugely loaded in the favor of batsmen.

The milestone of 500 was soon flashed on the scoreboard and the Indians were staring at the prospect of saving the Test. Mahela crossed 150 and looked to pile on the agony for Indians, like he has done many times before.  Prasanna too got to his 50 and was doing justice with his place in the team. All attempts made by Dhoni to break the partnership remained futile. Sri Lanka was doing what they have done rarely in India and that’s scoring huge totals.

By the time the umpire lifted the bails, Sri Lanka had left the Indian total 165 runs behind and the chief architect of this effort, Mahela Jayawardene (204 not out), achieved another double hundred, along with his assistant Prasanna Jayawardene (84 not out) who was eyeing his second Test century.  The day ended with Indian on the mat. It remains to be seen whether Sri Lanka can keep them on the mat or the Indian team has the wherewithal to bounce back from a hopeless situation.