India placed four fielders around the bat. The crowd upped the ante, playing the 12th man as expected. “Hum honge kamyaab, ek din,” resounded in the bleachers. One day, maybe. But Kumar Sangakkara assured it wasn’t on Saturday.
The Sri Lankan captain, who had admitted that he wasn’t in the best batting phase of his life and needed to convert on his starts, was unshakable as India began their bid to claim the top position in world cricket. Stoic and patient, Sangakkara blocked out the fielders, the noise, and steeled himself for the task ahead. After almost six hours of defiance, only half the job was done.
Sangakkara’s 21st century in Test cricket, and his first in India, took Sri Lanka to 274 for six at the end of the fourth day of the third Test in Mumbai and they still trail by 59.
The visitors may not have given up hopes of a revival, but the magnitude of the task at hand was evident in their mute celebrations of little milestones along the way. Tharanga Paranavitana brought up his second half-ton of the match with a quick nod and raise-of-bat towards the dressing room. Ditto for Sangakkara, when he brought up his hundred with a four through midwicket.
The crowd were more animated with their appreciation, as they rose to give the opposition a standing ovation. India’s Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth bowled at a lively pace throughout the day. With the bounce on the pitch still true, the bowlers beat the apprehensive bats regularly. Zaheer delivered a superb spell in the afternoon and was rewarded with two wickets-Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera.
The first wicket though, went to Harbhajan Singh when he trapped Tillekaratne Dilshan leg before wicket. It was the second time in the match that the off-spinner had dismissed him, or not.
After a poor decision in the first innings by umpire Nigel Llong, this time it was his Daryl Harper who got it wrong. The ball struck a stretching Dilshan outside the off-stump and replays showed it was heading well down the leg side.
Pragyan Ojha also chipped in with two wickets in the day, as the match looked like heading for an early end.
But Sangakkara was not done yet.
Though cautious at the beginning, the boundaries flowed from his bat with characteristic ease as the day grew older. He made an unbeaten on 133 off 258 balls (19x4, 1x6). Having run out of the top-league batsmen in his team, the captain strung together half-century partnerships for the sixth wicket (with Prasanna Jayawardene) and seventh (Nuwan Kulasekara) to push the game into the final day.