Positive start to India's battle for survival

Gambhir leads the way after Lankans tear apart bowling for a massive score

Positive start to India's battle  for survival

Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid cross for a run on the fourth day of the first match between India and Sri Lanka at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad. PTIAs recently as this March, India defied New Zealand for 180 overs in their second innings after trailing by 314 on the first to come away with an honourable draw in Napier.

On an equally benign surface at the Sardar Patel Gujarat stadium here, India began their second innings in the first Test on Thursday afternoon needing to see off 135 overs to deny Sri Lanka their maiden win on Indian soil.

By stumps on the penultimate date, the hosts had taken significant strides towards saving face, reaching 190 for two after trailing by 334 on the first innings, 144 short of making the Lankans bat again.

Overnight 591 for five, Sri Lanka made the highest total ever on Indian soil before applying closure at 760 for seven. That monumental effort was made possible by a world record association between the Jayawardenes, Mahela and Prasanna, the former falling for a memorable 275 (610m, 435b, 27x4, 1x6) and the latter remaining undefeated on 154 (416m, 314b, 11x4) as they realised 351 (387m, 592b) for the sixth wicket.

Kept on the park for 843 frustrating minutes, India’s batsmen faced a huge test of stamina and endurance, of mental strength and their powers of concentration. When Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir walked out, only one team was in with a winning chance; for India, a draw would be as precious as victory, not the ideal situation from a batting perspective.

Watching Sehwag bat, you wouldn’t have believed a game was to be saved. Admittedly, the Delhi opener is the complete entertainer, but his complete disregard of the game situation as he played strokes with gay abandon was hard to both fathom and stomach.

Sehwag’s eternal go-for-broke approach has set up many a victory, but there is something called playing the situation which was conspicuous by its absence. Dropped in the opening over off a Chanaka Welegedara no-ball, edging Dammika Prasad dangerously between the two Jayawardenes and generally leading a charmed life, Sehwag paid the price for one indiscretion too many when he tried to hoist Rangana Herath across the line and holed out to long-on in the first over after tea.

If there was any silver lining at all, it was that by then, 81 had come in quick time. There is nothing more debilitating whilst playing out time than the score board coming to a standstill. Sehwag’s adventurous misadventure had at least dissipated some of the early pressure, allowing Rahul Dravid and Gambhir to bat with sensible freedom.

Gambhir had been the star during India’s Napier escape act, his 643-minute 137 revealing a hitherto well-concealed facet of his batting. On Thursday, he wasn’t totally focussed on defence, putting the bad balls away but completely eschewing risks and presenting the picture of calm assurance, not unlike his classy one-drop partner.

Dravid again looked in exceptional touch, his back foot play against Muttiah Muralitharan, also defeated by the slowness and placidity of the track, having class written all over it. Both batsmen appeared to have booked themselves in for the long haul when Daryl Harper handed out a marginal leg before call against Dravid, thrusting the onus on Gambhir to pull off a Napier encore.

In the morning, much of the interest revolved around when Kumar Sangakkara would enforce the declaration. The third new ball too failed to dislodge the Jayawardene duo and India quickly lapsed into negativity. Mahela continued his serene progress while Prasanna batted with more authority than the previous evening so that Sri Lanka scored freely.

By the time Amit Mishra finally found success, in his 54th over, Mahela had made the highest score by an overseas batsman in India, and the sixth-wicket pair had obliterated the previous world record of 346 set by Don Bradman and Jack Fingleton 73 summers back.

Throughout that stand, the lack of bite in the Indian attack was matched only by the lack of purchase from a fourth-day surface. In the absence of any significant deterioration, India will fancy their chances of negotiating the final day, but pressure has a funny way of confounding pundits.

Score Board

INDIA (I Innings): 426 all out in 104.5 overs

SRI LANKA (I Innings, O/n: 591/5):

Dilshan c Dravid b Zaheer    112
(205m, 133b, 12x4)
Paranavitana c Dhoni b Ishant     35
(81m, 55b, 6x4)
S’akkara c Tendulkar b Zaheer    31
(133m, 85b, 3x4)
M Jayawardene b Mishra    275
(610m, 435b, 27x4, 1x6)
Samaraweera c Yuvraj b Ishant    70
(166m, 145b, 9x4)
Mathews c Gambhir b Harbhajan    17
(44m, 34b, 1x4, 1x6)
P Jayawardene (not out)    154
(416m, 314b, 11x4)
Prasad c Mishra b Harbhajan    21
(28m, 35b, 2x4)
Extras (B-5, LB-16, W-4, NB-20)    45

Total (for 7 wkts decl, 202.4 overs) 760

Fall of wickets: 1-74 (Paranavitana), 2-189 (Dilshan), 3-194 (Sangakkara), 4-332 (Samaraweera), 5-375 (Mathews), 6-726 (M Jayawardene), 7-760 (Prasad)
Bowling: Zaheer 36-6-109-2 (w-2, nb-9), Ishant 33-0-135-2 (w-2, nb-3), Harbhajan 48.4-4-189-2, Mishra 58-6-203-1 (nb-8), Yuvraj 16-1-64-0, Tendulkar 7-0-20-0, Sehwag 4-1-19-0.

INDIA (II Innings):

Gambhir (batting)    74
(194m, 120b, 7x4)
Sehwag c Mathews b Herath     51
(73m, 67b, 7x4)
Dravid lbw Welegedara    38
(98m, 66b, 6x4)
Mishra (batting)    12
(21m, 25b, 2x4)
Extras (LB-7, NB-8)    15
Total (for 2 wkts, 45 overs)    190
Fall of wickets: 1-81 (Sehwag), 2-169 (Dravid).
Bowling: Welegedara 9-0-31-1 (nb-1), Prasad 9-0-49-0 (nb-3), Herath 13-0-47-1, Muralitharan 14-0-56-0 (nb-4). 

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