It was as if the two teams Sri Lanka and India were batting and bowling on two different pitches altogether. The first two days of cricket at the SSC Ground rained plenty of runs while the Indian bowlers managed to take just four wickets! On the third day, Sri Lanka did everything according to plan as they got to 600, so that they bat just the once in this match. The rest of the time will be devoted to Murali and Mendis to get the 20 Indian wickets. However, the general feeling was that the superb Indian batting line-up will anyway come good to pile up around 500 and the match would just end up as a draw. The Indians now have their backs to the wall at a sorry 159 for 6 and trailing behind by an incredibly massive 441 runs!
The opening start for India from Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir was an attractive one as usual. But once Sehwag ended the good going with a stupid shot, it was like a repeat of the Asia Cup Final! This time round, it was Muttiah Muralitharan doing the damage with four wickets. Ajantha Mendis picked just the one wicket but the mystery spinner was responsible to sustain the pressure at one end and thus making Murali doubly dangerous! This was after Sri Lanka had declared their first innings at 600 for 6. The hosts didn’t waste much time at all as they got their runs at 3.70 rpo and had got the Indians to bat for a good one hour before the Tea Break. Tillakaratne Dilshan had helped himself to a century and therefore becoming the fourth centurion of the Sri Lankan first innings. There was no joy whatsoever for the Indian bowlers. Just the two wickets came India’s way on the third day as well. The first breakthrough came when overnight batsman – Thilan Samaraweera (127 from 224 balls with 18 fours) cut Zaheer Khan straight into the hands of Laxman at gully. Sri Lanka were at 454 for 5 at this stage. There was another good partnership to follow that of Dilshan and wicket keeper Prasanna Jayawardene which gave the foundation for the 600-run mark. Prasanna Jayawardene (30 from 70 balls with a four) eventually holed out off Harbhajan as he tried to get a boundary. When Sri Lanka did declare, Dilshan was happily unbeaten on 125 (from 170 balls with 12 fours and a six) along with Vaas on 22 (from 32 balls with 4 fours). One of the notable shots from Dilshan was the sweep he had played off Zaheer Khan for a boundary!
Like how they were four centurions in the Sri Lankan camp, there were as many centurions in the Indian camp as well. Zaheer, Ishant, Harbhajan and Kumble all went onto record big centuries with the ball! India’s first innings started on a bright note with Sehwag playing some blistering shots until he went for a suicidal hook shot with two men in the deep just waiting for that. Kulasekara was the bowler who executed the brilliant plan as he got a high bouncer outside the offstump and Sehwag fell in the trap set by the Sri Lankan captain. It was apt to say that Sehwag fell cheaply for 25 (from 16 balls with 5 fours). After that Gambhir and Dravid tried to be solid but the real test was when Ajantha Mendis and Muralitharan were brought into the attack. Another big blow came when in the 18th over, Gambhir over aggressively tried to ondrive Murali against the turn only to slice a catch at short extra covers. The southpaw was looking good until then having made 39 (from 55 balls with 5 fours). India were 79 for 2 at this stage and three balls later, Rahul Dravid got castled by a leg cutter kind of delivery from Ajantha Mendis to make it 79 for 3! Mendis pushed a flat delivery to which Dravid (14 from 35 with 2 fours) looked to work it across the onside off the backfoot, but the ball went away from the batsman to beat his shot and hit the timber!
The pressure was enormous on Tendulkar and Ganguly as India were already in deep trouble and chasing a huge 600 total. Tendulkar gave lots of hope with some attacking shots off Mendis but all of a sudden went into his shell to be overcautious. That is what had caused his downfall as the little master was indecisive whether to offer a shot or to pad up to a Murali delivery which was bowled from round the sticks and pitching around the middle stump. By the time Tendulkar (27 from 46 balls with 3 fours) did decide what to do, the doosra from Murali took the inside edge and rolled back onto the stumps to make it 123 for 4. Bad light came to India’s rescue after that but the halt in play was only for a while. After a brief break, play resumed and India went onto lose two more wickets in the form of Ganguly and Dinesh Karthik. While Ganguly (23 from 57 with 4 fours) got brilliantly caught by Kulasekara at fine leg off a top edged sweep, Karthik (9 from 16 balls with a reverse sweep for a boundary) played an unforgettable shot to get himself out. Both the wickets were taken by Murali as he ended the day with 15-3-38-4! Mendis, the debutant was always a threat and he had figures of 18-3-58-1. Dinesh Karthik’s ugly attempt to hoik Murali over mid wicket summed up the day for the Indians. Once again it was bad light ending the day with India in shambles at 159 for 6 in 45 overs. Laxman is on 19 (from 41 balls with 3 fours) along with Skipper Kumble, who is on 1. The visitors will be praying for something miraculous to escape from the jail!