When Kumar Sangakkara said on the eve of this Test that Sri Lanka could play three spinners, he was thinking of exploiting the track later. That, coupled with Ajantha Mendis’s history against India and Rangana Herath’s recent good form, meant Muttiah Muralitharan had two spinners for company.
Two days later, Sangakkara and his men have a mountain to climb. Against 642, made at the expense of their famed spinners, 66-1 looks better than 0-1 they’d been reduced to off the very first ball of their innings. But, it is still not comfortable enough. Saving the game will be their priority from now on.
The wicket, in Gautam Gambhir’s words, has “begun to turn and keep low”, something that helped Rangana Herath get those five scalps towards the end. At 613-4 just before tea, India were set for 700, but some clever bowling and a rush for runs meant India’s last six wickets fell for 29 runs.
Earlier, both Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar stretched their partnership, before the latter was caught by Thilan Samaraweera at mid-off on 40. It’ll remain a mystery as to why the world’s best batsman has a poor record here.
Dravid — who had by now got to his 28th century and surpassed Allan Border’s Test-run mark — was joined by Laxman. Dravid buffeted Herath with a six but, against Mendis, was forced to bring in his fortress-like, two-tier forward defence — pad behind a straight bat held in soft hands.
He played him that way until Laxman provided the solution — gliding Mendis’s pacy delivery to the third-man boundary with an open face. Dravid did likewise and Mendis was forced to curb the pace. Dravid stretched out and drove in similar fashion to the extra-cover boundary. The two had won a little battle and Lanka were searching for a miracle, which came only after the duo had completed the damage.
Laxman’s whack hit Herath, whose evasive action deflected it to the stumps. Dravid had backed himself too far. Yuvraj walked in and after some tense moments against Muralitharan, started scoring. The two put on a century stand and, although Yuvraj found it a bit tough to handle the spinning ones with his feet movement, he used the next best option — sweep shot. He scored a few fours with that and also thrived on the defensive field set by the spinners.
A slip and a forward short-leg, which was removed after lunch, allowed him to free his arms. He hit Muralitharan for a six over midwicket and immediately four fielders went to navigate the boundary.
By the time Laxman fell, in a similar fashion to Tendulkar, India were sitting pretty. Although Dhoni and the others failed in their bid to up the tempo, the Lankans still were left with a mountain to climb.
Dilshan made it even more difficult by breaking convention — of not playing straight to the first ball — and popping a catch to Pragyan Ojha. Everything now rests on Indian spinners on Thursday, and as Gautam Gambir said, “It all depends on the line they bowl”.