Mahela special puts India in a spot

Lankan slams double ton as hosts concede big lead

Mahela special puts India in a spot

Left: Sri Lankan cricketer Mahela Jaywardhane lifts his bat to mark his century. Right: Lankan batsman Thilan Samaraweera in action during the third day of the first cricket Test against India in Ahmedabad Wednesday. AP Photo The master accumulator was at his industrious, imperious best at the Sardar Patel Gujarat stadium on Wednesday as Sri Lanka tightened the screws on the middle day of the first Test, putting themselves in a position from where they can realistically aim for their first Test triumph in India.

With the 32-year-old in the forefront and Thilan Samaraweera and Prasanna Jayawardene playing the support cast to perfection, Sri Lanka pulled away to 591 for five, 165 ahead and primed to ask numerous uncomfortable questions of India’s batsmen over the next two days.

Jayawardene has been a bit of an enigma, the holder of an impressive Test record but not often figuring in the list of modern-day ‘greats.’ Perhaps, it is to do with the fact that he hasn’t always travelled well, that there is a huge disparity between his exceptional home record and not so eye-catching numbers overseas, that he has scored 18 hundreds at home and only nine away.

With his chanceless unbeaten 204 (480m, 339b, 17x4, 1x6), Jayawardene has traversed some distance towards establishing himself as an equally competent performer away from his comfort zone, though there was little either in a placid surface or an unthreatening Indian attack that necessitated him to put mind over matter.

What was impressive about the classy right-hander who abhors hitting the ball in anger was his intense concentration, a fierce desire not to throw his hand away, the determination to bat the Indians out of the game. His shepherding of unrelated namesake Prasanna during a slightly uncertain early period was in keeping with his stature as one of the leaders of the team, a role that suggested that even after abdicating the captaincy, the interests of the side aren’t secondary to his own personal interests.

For the second day running, India’s bowling lacked bite and purpose. Admittedly, the track gave them little assistance, but what was most disappointing was the inability of the bowling unit to impose any pressure whatsoever. Runs were gifted with the profligacy of a millionaire, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s open fields allowing the Lankans to turn the strike over at will and score at a rapid clip even if the boundaries weren’t flowing.

Without firing on all cylinders, Zaheer Khan brooked careful watching throughout the day, getting past Mahela’s broad bat even with the batsman in the 190s after having put him through a searching examination earlier with intelligent use of the short ball. Ishant Sharma caught the eye in patches, but neither Harbhajan Singh nor Amit Mishra made any impression.

That the only time an Indian spinner looked like taking a wicket was when Sachin Tendulkar was bowling tells a tale in itself.

The little man, a willing ally in Dhoni’s right-arm round, outside-leg, run-denying approach in a bid to wrest some control, got the ball to fizz, bounce, spit and turn a mile. Muttiah Muralitharan and Rangana Herath might have allowed themselves a smile or two in the change room, but neither Harbhajan nor Mishra was too thrilled at being out-bowled by what at best is a very occasional bowler these days.

India had just two successes all day long. Samaraweera, looking good for a hundred, was brilliantly caught at square-leg by Yuvraj Singh after a stand of 138 (166m, 250b) with Mahela, while Angelo Mathews was cruelly sent on his way by Daryl Harper, adjudged caught at short-leg when Harbhajan struck his pad and nothing else.

India ought to have been buoyed by those two pre-lunch strikes, but they found no success thereafter as the two Jayawardenes joined hands. Gradually, the milestones began to be ticked off and India lapsed into obvious listlessness. Sri Lanka posted their highest total on Indian soil, Mahela converted hundred number 27 into double ton number six, and the Jayawardenes had added a Sri Lankan record 216 (257m, 287b) for the sixth wicket when stumps were drawn.
What can India come up with now?

SCORE BOARD

INDIA (I Innings): 426 all out in 104.5 overs
SRI LANKA (I Innings, O/n: 275/3):
Dilshan c Dravid b Zaheer    112
(205m, 133b, 12x4)
Paranavitana c Dhoni b Ishant    35
(81m, 55b, 6x4)
Sangakkara c Tendulkar b Zaheer    31
(133m, 85b, 3x4)
M Jayawardene (batting)    204
(480m, 339b, 17x4, 1x6)
Samaraweera c Yuvraj b Ishant    70
(166m, 145b, 9x4)
Mathews c Gambhir b Harbhajan    17
(44m, 34b, 1x4, 1x6)
P Jayawardene (batting)    84
(257m, 186b, 4x4)
Extras (B-5, LB-13, W-3, NB-17)    38
Total (for 5 wkts, 160 overs)    591
Fall of wickets: 1-74 (Paranavitana), 2-189 (Dilshan), 3-194 (Sangakkara), 4-332 (Samaraweera), 5-375 (Mathews).
Bowling: Zaheer 30-4-93-2 (w-2, nb-8), Ishant 28-0-108-2 (w-1, nb-3), Harbhajan 39-3-151-1, Mishra 43-6-152-0 (nb-6), Yuvraj 13-1-49-0, Tendulkar 7-0-20-0.

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