For a third straight day, play ended with both teams having an equal chance of forcing a win, with India initially battling hard to end Sri Lanka's first innings on 292 and then putting together 200 for 4 in their second dig, to lead by 237.
Harbhajan Singh bagged a five-for, Mahela Jayawardene made 86, but the highlight of the day was the manner in which the Indian batsmen organised themselves to take on the Lankan spinners. At no stage in this tour have they collectively applied themselves as well, and should have ended the day more in control of the match.
With clouds gathering and India on 200 for 2 in the midst of a serious renaissance on the back of yet another strong opening stand, two momentary lapses took the sheen off what would have been a fine day's cricket for the visitors.
Sachin Tendulkar had reached 31 and had just left three deliveries from Chaminda Vaas well alone. The fourth was pushed a bit fuller and Vaas rolled his fingers on the ball. Tendulkar went for a drive, the ball gripped the surface, deviated away and Jayawardene snapped up the outside edge.
Seven balls later Rahul Dravid, who played some particularly pleasing shots through the off side to get to 44, played an expansive sweep against Muttiah Muralitharan. Dravid missed, the ball pitched and struck the front pad. Dravid's foot was extended to the maximum, and against the biggest spinner of the ball in cricket, this alone should have been enough to negate the vociferous appeal. Billy Doctrove agreed, but Jayawardene, after running across and consulting with the umpire, asked for a review. Gamini Silva, who has been more inconsistent than the weather, saw that the point of impact was 2.5 metres away from the stumps and still said something to Doctrove that convinced him to change his decision.
India had slumped to 200 for 4 and moments later Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman accepted the offer of bad light. While the dying moments of the day had proven forgettable, the start of the innings was anything but. Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag showed that their first-innings effort was no fluke with the former reading the spinners out of the hand and the latter playing them off the pitch.
The field had spread and Sehwag had just reached 50 when he played Vaas straight to Dilshan at short cover.
Gambhir (74) motored on, looking good for a century, when he left an offbreak from Mendis alone only for the ball to brush something on its way and dislodge the bails. Sehwag and Gambhir had set the innings up well, and the batsmen to follow worked hard, but Sri Lanka had sneaked back into the game.
Even when they began the day, with ball in hand, India were far more effective than earlier.
The two Jayawardenes, Mahela and Prasanna, resuming on 215 for 5, were separated when Harbhajan forced a bat-pad catch from the latter. Vaas was Anil Kumble's first wicket of the series, popping a catch via the leading edge. Mahela then did his best to protect the tail, but Kumble had his second wicket when a brisk legbreak was parried and caught by Dinesh Karthik. The tail folded and India had secured a slender yet morale-boosting lead of 37.