Indians close in on big win

Sreesanth bags five-wicket haul on his return as Lanka forced to follow on

Indians close in on big win

Since then, the Kerala paceman has been in the news for all the wrong reasons; on an action-packed Thursday at Green Park, the 26-year-old who loves attention and the arc-lights made sure he was in the headlines for only the right reasons.

In direct contrast to the previous seven days of this series, the middle day of the second Test was totally dominated by the bowlers. Sreesanth was in the forefront with his second five-for in Tests, but he wasn’t the only bowler that caught the eye as India moved to within striking distance of a commanding innings victory over a comprehensively outclassed Sri Lanka.

A slow track beginning to play the odd tricks notwithstanding, few would have envisaged such abject capitulation from a team seriously aspiring for the number one status. Kumar Sangakkara’s men showed neither application nor gumption in trying but not impossible conditions, which is why they find themselves needing 356 more to avoid an innings defeat with only six wickets standing.

In all, the Lankans scored just 220 runs and lost 13 wickets in 83 overs on day three when bad light temporarily ended their misery with five overs remaining. Tharanga Paranavitana, Mahela Jayawardene and the captain himself were dismissed twice in one day, contributing hugely to Sri Lanka’s first-innings surrender of 229 and a second-innings rot of 57 for four after Mahendra Singh Dhoni, enjoying a 413-run cushion, enforced the follow on.

Immense talent
There has been no doubting Sreesanth’s immense talent. Everyone who saw him run though South Africa at the Wanderers in late 2006 realised that this was a gifted, special athlete. Where he has let his supporters, his team and himself down has been with his unedifying antics, on and off the field.

Seemingly chastened after Slapgate and after successive warnings from the BCCI and his own state association, Sreesanth’s unwavering focus on Thursday was hard to miss. He wasn’t on top of his game to start with; several times in the past has he bowled better without commensurate results, but his five for 75 in the Lankan first-innings was no more than he deserved for persistence and perseverance.

It helped, too, that Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera played extremely ordinary strokes, uncharacteristically reaching out to wide deliveries, defeated by the slowness of the surface and managing only to drag the ball on to the stumps.
After Lanka resumed at 66 for one, Sreesanth procured the first breakthrough by having Paranavitana well caught by Dhoni in the day’s sixth over. The opener’s association of 82 with Sangakkara was the only stand of substance as Sri Lanka lost wickets at regular intervals, pinned down as they were by the accuracy of the Indian bowling, more than anything else.

While Sreesanth picked up all the accolades, debutant left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha quietly did his job, bottling one end up and occasionally getting the ball to fizz past the right-hander. His first Test victim was an illustrious one, Mahela holing out to mid-on shortly after a stabilising half-century stand for the sixth wicket with Prasanna.
With Harbhajan Singh too in his elements, India were all over the Sri Lankans like a bad rash. Reputed to be as adept players of spin as the Indians themselves, the Islanders didn’t do themselves any justice, first when Sreesanth probed away during extended spells of 9-2-28-3 and 7-2-18-2, and then when Ojha and Harbhajan probed away.
Bundled out a little after tea, Sri Lanka faced another little testing passage to the close which they failed to negotiate with assurance. Sreesanth provided the opening for the second time in the day, having Dilshan caught behind and then stepping aside as spin took centrestage.

Dhoni’s decision to introduce Virender Sehwag early in the second innings brought immediate dividends as Paranavitana was trapped in front, but the killer blow came when Sangakkara called Jayawardene through for a non-existent single and left him for dead. The skipper then chopped Harbhajan on a little later to leave India on the cusp of their 100th Test triumph.

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