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Day 3: India establish 479-run lead

The tail frustrated the Lankan bowlers after another top order collapse as India were 287/9 at stumps. Full Scorecard

india Updated: Dec 21, 2005 10:14 IST

With the build-up to the game centering around Anil Kumble’s 100th Test cap and what’s seen as Sourav Ganguly’s inglorious exit, none noticed that Harbhajan Singh was approaching a milestone too.

There was no dramatic change in the script save another Indian top-order collapse, before a scorcher of an innings from Yuvraj Singh helped the hosts proceed towards a mammoth lead and a 2-0 series in the third and final Test.

But the first half of Day 3 belonged to the terror in turban, who made his 50th Test memorable by mesmerising the Sri Lankans for his 17th five-wicket haul. The lead of 192 runs was enough to announce that barring a miracle, the visitors wouldn't square the series.

For inspiration, they can remember that New Zealand had survived Harbhajan and Kumble in the fourth innings to deny India a win here two years ago, while South Africa dug deep to snatch a famous draw in Perth on Tuesday. What they also must remember is that the situation is against them, with two days to go and India 479 runs ahead.

If the Sri Lankans were hoping for a miracle, they couldn't be blamed when Virender Sehwag got himself dismissed in the same inimitable manner that makes him an exciting batsman.

There can’t be many instances of an opener, forget captain, being caught at third-man in the first ball of a Test innings which could have been ruled a no-ball (for height) and a wide at the same time in the shorter version of the game!

Players do go through lean patches and Sehwag is a special player, but he actually hasn’t done much to be proud of this season apart from standing in as captain. If runs behind their names help batsmen ahead of a tour of Pakistan, he doesn't have them. Gautam Gambhir has no reason to feel different.

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One Indian who will draw courage from his recent performances before crossing the border is Yuvraj. He doesn't say how it feels replacing his mentor, though Ganguly could only be happy to see his choice making bold statements under pressure.

It was just a 75, but the Punjab Powerpack had this responsibility to take the game beyond the opponent at 34 for three. Uncomfortable in the beginning, against Lasith Malinga's short stuff and also getting away with an uppish drive off Tillekeratne Dilshan, Yuvraj benefited from the Lankan ploy of frequent shuffling in attack.

After warming up with a few big shots against Malinga Bandara, Yuvraj spared none including the magician. Muralitharan was smacked through mid-wicket against the turn and Malinga saw the ball pulled vigorously to the fence when he tried an old trick in a new spell. There were also some screaming drives through the covers.

Ajit Agarkar's surprise slogging, Irfan Pathan's cameo brimming with confidence and Anil Kumble's perseverance with the bat ensured that Indians were determined to make up for the top-order failure and grind Sri Lanka gradually.

"I would like to bat," said Harbhajan while Sehwag said there would be no declaration.

Thoughts like that might have crossed the Indian minds after polishing off the Lankan tail in the first session because a team with such a big lead should prefer setting a target of their choice instead of being bowled out. But that's a different story.

It took the Indian spinners — the medium-pacers didn't bowl a ball — just over 23 overs to bag the remaining five wickets though the Sri Lankans got just seven more than what was needed to avoid the follow-on.

Dilshan led the charge with Bandara lending a helping hand.

The men who shared nine wickets were batting together at the end of the day on Tuesday with the task of finishing it off with the ball a day later.

It would have taken an imaginative writer to script such a celebration of Kumble and Harbhajan's career milestones.

First Published: Dec 20, 2005 10:14 IST