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Tail wags but fails to deny SL

cricket Updated: Jul 23, 2010 00:26 IST
Amol Karhadkar
Amol Karhadkar
Hindustan Times
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Once India received triple setbacks just before the end of Wednesday's play, the writing was clearly on the wall. As VVS Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni took the crease on the last day's play of India's first Test against Sri Lanka, even they realised that it was just a matter of time.

Eight balls later, Lasith Malinga's immaculate yorker zipped through the Indian skipper's defence to disturb the woodwork. This surely meant that the end was nearer than the dressing room would have hoped. At 186 for six in their second innings after being forced to follow on, India still trailed Sri Lanka by 58 runs.

This meant Laxman had to bat out almost 97 overs along with the tail to avert defeat. That indeed seemed out of reach. With the Sri Lankan president Mahindra Rajapaksa slated to fly down from Colombo during the lunch break, to felicitate Muttiah Muralitharan in his farewell Test, there was a good chance that Rajapaksa would not just applaud Murali's contribution to Sri Lankan cricket, but also end up presiding over the post-match presentation ceremony.

But that was not to be. Though Harbhajan departed soon after Dhoni to be Muralitharan’s 799th victim, Laxman (69) staged a spirited fightback with the rest of the tailenders to give India a glimmer of hope till he was run out.

Bhajji’s return prompted debutant Abhimanyu Mithun's arrival at the crease. And the paceman, during his 49-run eighth-wicket stand gave enough indications that he is no mug with the bat. Not only did he frustrate Murali and Co for almost an hour but he also helped India avoid an innings defeat.

But Mithun's 59-minute stint came to an end, thanks to another Malinga scorcher that rapped the pads, giving the slinger a five-wicket haul.

From then on, it was all about whether the mesmerising Murali would get to the 800-wicket mark or not. Once Laxman fell, the anxiety increased. It was only fitting, though, that Murali had his moment. And it came when Pragyan Ojha edged one to Mahela Jaywardene at first slip and the whole stadium erupted in celebration. The Sri Lankan chase of 95 was a mere formality, and that they did so without losing a wicket capped off a fine farewell for Murali.