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Poised for super Galle

cricket Updated: Aug 02, 2008 19:13 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
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Just when you thought the second Test was swinging towards India through the batting of Virender Sehwag and V.V.S. Laxman, Ajantha Mendis wrested it back Sri Lanka's way.

When the pendulum of power was surging towards the home side through the Kumar Sangakkara-Malinda Warnaweera partnership, Harbhajan Singh levelled things off with a skilful spell. At the end of Day Two, Sri Lanka were 215 for 5 in response to India's 329, still 114 behind.

Friday's play drilled one point home. While the pitch had not yet deteriorated into a rank turner just yet, it wasn't easy for new batsmen. Protecting partnerships could turn out to be the key.

Sehwag began the day so well set that Mendis and Murali did not pose the same kind of threat to him as they did to others. Even though Sehwag was not set on an all-out attack, he got to his 150 off only 144 balls. Laxman did well to bring up the 100-run partnership, but fell on 39, when he ballooned Mendis to Thilan Samaraweera. The fifth wicket partnership had taken India to 278.

But then it was a familiar story as the lower order found Mendis and Murali too hot to handle. Dinesh Karthik played inside the line to Mendis and was trapped in front.

Kumble, attempting to work Murali through the on side, was smartly stumped by Prasanna Jayawardene, the third-umpire making the call on a line decision. Harbhajan lost his off stump to a fairly quick flicked Mendis special, giving the Lankan his first five-for in just his second Test.

Sehwag, then on 192, suffered a few nervous moments, farming the strike and keeping Ishant Sharma away, while still trying to bring up a double-century. He finally managed that with a swept single, but Ishant was sent packing soon after.

Sehwag, unbeaten on 201, emulated a man whose batting style could not be more dissimilar to his own, Sunil Gavaskar, in carrying the bat. Crucially, he had made almost 62 per cent of India's runs.

India struck instantly with the ball, Michael Vandort guiding Zaheer Khan to Dravid at third slip. But that would be the only success for a while as Warnapura and Sangakkara counter-attacked to put on 133. Shoulders had drooped and fielders had tired by the time Warnapura (66) sliced Harbhajan to Gambhir at short point.

Harbhajan, setting into a nice rhythm, then latched on to a return catch off an attempted flick from Sangakkara. Samaraweera made the mistake of playing back to one from round the wicket, and the fourth Sri Lankan wicket had fallen on 192. When Harbhajan bagged Tillakaratne Dilshan, India were back in the game.

Only 143 overs have been sent down in this match but it is already well on its way towards reaching a conclusion. India have a precious 114-run lead. In a game that has meandered one way before swinging the other, just like the bright sunshine that is punctuated by sudden, sharp showers, a game of nerves is playing itself out beautifully, and players from both sides will be severely tested.