If Thursday was forgettable, Friday was a black day for India's cricketers. After allowing Sri Lanka to motor from their overnight 422 to a more-than-healthy 600 for 6 declared, on the back of Tillakaratne Dilshan's fifth Test century, India's batsmen proved it was possible to collapse on any kind of pitch. A series of injudicious shots left India tottering at 159 for 6. With the tail exposed and two full days to go, the Test seems ripe for Sri Lanka's picking, should rain stay away.
The Sinhalese Sports Club has one of the largest manual scoreboards you are likely to see at a cricket ground and when India's turn at bat came, the 600 runs on the board cast a dark shadow over the much-vaunted batting line-up. But Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag began as though they were still opening for the Delhi IPL team, scoring at more than seven an over, getting 36 in five overs.
Sehwag then decided to fetch a short ball from well outside the off stump and pull it for six but only holed out to Malinda Warnapura. With Sehwag gone, Gambhir combined with a circumspect Rahul Dravid and pushed the score on to 79. Gambhir looked good at the crease, not being fussed by the introduction of Ajantha Mendis in the 11th over and putting away two full tosses that came his way.
Perhaps the energy he invested in preserving his wicket against Mendis caused him to relax against old fox Muttiah Muralitharan. Gambhir (39) tried to turn a loopy delivery to the on side, closed the face of the bat early and ballooned a catch to Thilan Samaraweera at short cover.
Dravid, who had been at the non-striker's end for Mendis's first few overs, played inside a ball that left him a shade on pitching and lost his off stump. He walked back to the pavilion mimicking with his hand the kind of delivery Mendis had sent down. Sachin Tendulkar appeared determined to master both the spinners. He came down the pitch and hit Murali through mid-off and slog-swept Mendis for a forceful boundary through midwicket. But it was Murali who had the last laugh when Tendulkar, shaping to withdraw from a defensive shot but inside edged back onto the stumps. At 123 for 4 and with no sign of rain, Sri Lanka's bowlers began to run amok. But they needn't have bothered, for they were about to receive more presents from India's batsmen.
Sourav Ganguly was going well, on 23, before playing a shot he will be kicking himself for. Taking on Murali, Ganguly swept hard and Nuwan Kulasekara, posted at deep backward square-leg, took a good catch. Dinesh Karthik had a golden chance to show some character after the top order had failed. With VVS Laxman at the other end, all Karthik needed to do was stay at the crease but adventurism got the better of him. Perhaps buoyed by a reverse-sweep off Murali that fetched him a boundary, Karthik attempted to hit the man with the most Test wickets out of a ground where he has more than 150 scalps. The ill-advised and worse executed heave to a doosra went straight up off the leading edge and Murali ran back towards mid-off to collect the catch.
At 147 for 6, the follow-on mark of 401 was a mountain-and-a-half away. Never, in their history, have Sri Lanka asked India to follow-on, but barring two days of non-stop rain, you can be sure they will be in a position to do so in this match. When bad light ended the day's play, India had moved to 159 for 6, still 242 away from avoiding the follow-on.