On the eve of this Test, which is Muttiah Muralitharan’s swansong, Kumar Sangakkara said, “if Murali takes eight wickets (to reach 800), we will win.”
At the end of Day 4, both objectives were on the verge of being fulfilled as India stood on the brink of a humiliating defeat.
After following on, having folded up for 276 in the first innings, Muralitharan’s last-ball strike reduced India to 181 for 5 in their second essay. With VVS Laxman and skipper MS Dhoni being the last recognised batsmen left, it will take something heroic to avert defeat.
Despite Virender Sehwag recording his 20th Test ton , the day will be remembered for the strong performances with ball from Murali and Lasith Malinga.
When Sehwag and Laxman rejoined battle at 140 for 3, Murali produced a magic spell of 10-0-32-4 that resulted in Sri Lanka enforcing the follow-on, and the offie’s 67th five-for. While he got through Dhoni’s defence with a ripper that spun in sharply through the gate, in his next over, the offie got Yuvraj Singh to nick to slip. Mind you, for a little over an hour before that, Dhoni and Yuvraj were fluent in their 74-run stand.
But Murali’s twin strike started a collapse as India were bowled out for 276 from being a respectable 252 for 5 at one stage. Even before Murali started spinning his web around the Indian lower order, Sehwag and Laxman helped Sri Lanka’s cause by falling into the traps set for their dismissal with reckless shots.
While Sehwag chased a wide delivery from Chanaka Welegedara and edged it to first slip, Laxman miscued an attempted pull off to deep square leg. In the second innings, the news got worse before it became temporarily better. Gambhir, who had succumbed to Malinga’s second ball in the first innings, edged the third second-innings ball that he faced to the keeper.
Sehwag then quickly got to 30 before playing yet another flashy shot — again off Welegedara — and Jayawardene plucked a sharp catch at gully.
Then came the brightest patch of the day for India as Rahul Dravid (44) and Sachin Tendulkar (84) added 119 for the third wicket. More importantly, the senior pros deprived the hosts of a wicket for 156 minutes.
Just when it appeared that they would carry on till stumps, disaster struck in the form of Malinga. The slinger first had Dravid caught at short square-leg, flicking uppishly. Then, 23 minutes before stumps, Malinga got rid of the danger man Tendulkar with a scorching yorker.
The last thing India needed at this stage was another wicket, but Yuvraj obligingly edged Murali to slip.