Dhoni hits century as India take firm grip

Sehwag misses his third triple ton by seven runs

Dhoni hits century as India take firm grip

Sri Lankan pacer Kulasekara celebrates the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar as he looks back to his stumps after getting bowled out on the third day of the third and final test at the Brabourne stadium, in Mumbai on Friday. PTI

For most of the rest of the day, normalcy prevailed before Mahendra Singh Dhoni decided it was about time he too made a statement.

Virender Sehwag’s tryst with history didn’t materialise at the Brabourne stadium on a sultry Friday. Overnight 284 and primed to become the first batsman in Test history to notch up three triple tons, the right-handed opener had brought the crowds in in droves and sent expectancy levels soaring high, but Muttiah Muraltharan had other ideas.

In the middle of his worst run, Test cricket’s highest wicket-taker produced a wonderfully looping, dipping off-spinner to elicit a loose, hesitant half-drive from an unusually circumspect Sehwag. As the ball popped out of Muralitharan’s hands, a million hearts willed him not to latch on to the rebound. Keeping his wits about him, the 37-year-old held on to the ball for dear life amidst the deafening sound of silence as day three of the final Test got off to a sensational start.

The dramatics of the fourth over, however, didn’t spill over to the rest of a lacklustre afternoon, not until Dhoni cut loose in last man Pragyan Ojha’s company to race to a brilliantly crafted third century. Overnight 443 for one, India applied the closure the minute the skipper brought up three figures, at 726 for nine, their highest total in Test cricket.

Trailing by 333 – incredibly, the lowest first-innings advantage this series! – Sri Lanka saw off the three overs to stumps without alarm, reaching 11 without loss and requiring a further 322 merely to stave off a second successive innings defeat. With two full days left, there are no prizes for guessing who holds all the aces.

Dhoni’s pyrotechnics

Between Sehwag’s heart-breaking dismissal for a monumental 293 (366m, 254b, 40x4, 7x6) and Dhoni’s late-innings pyrotechnics (100 n.o., 154m, 154b, 3x4, 6x6) during which his extraordinary power and acute intelligence were on full view, India’s batting was largely pedestrian. Perhaps, it had something to do with the fact that it was impossible to emulate Sehwag’s heroics; perhaps, too, it was because Sri Lanka bowled better than on Thursday, but the batting seldom rose above the ordinary.

Mindful of how close he was to carving out an indelible place in history, Sehwag was totally subdued on Friday. His uncharacteristically conservative mindset had a big part to play in his downfall because more often than not, he would have used his feet to deposit that same delivery over the bowler’s head.

By merely pushing at the ball without getting to its pitch, he threw a lifeline Muralitharan accepted gratefully. Destiny, cruel destiny!

Sehwag’s departure after a 237-run (189m, 264b) alliance with Rahul Dravid, to a standing ovation, brought Sachin Tendulkar to the middle, also to loud cheers. The little man looked in the mood, playing with great freedom against Muralitharan and Rangana Herath, but Dravid’s fall after a loose drive to a widish delivery from Chanaka Welegedara forced him to revisit his approach.

Loose stroke

Dravid, Tendulkar and VVS Laxman all made workmanlike half-centuries without kicking on, and when Yuvraj Singh emulated the Dravid-Laxman combine by perishing to a loose stroke, India looked to have sold themselves short.

As the gifts came unexpectedly, Muralitharan looked the part for the first time in the series.

During a spell of 18-2-33-3, he benefited from batsmen not coming after him, and while he didn’t get on top of the batsmen, he went some distance towards repairing his badly damaged figures.

Dhoni looked on helplessly as one batsman after another perished to reckless shots. It was left to Ojha to provide the skipper with the support he needed in his bid to push the lead well beyond 300, a task the left-arm spinner performed with aplomb.

Having quietly made his way to a half-century, the Jharkhandi exploded without warning. Sixes cascaded off his willow as he brought brute force out of cold storage. Massive clatters down the ground and one extraordinary ‘helicopter’ scoop over mid-wicket off Herath were interspersed by intelligent farming of the strike as Ojha was left to face just 14 deliveries during a 56-run stand spanning 71 balls. Stirring stuff! Now, the final act beckons.

SCORE BOARD

SRI LANKA (I Innings): 393 all out in 94.4 overs
INDIA (I Innings, O/n: 443/1):
Vijay lbw Herath    87
(177m, 121b, 10x4, 1x6)
Sehwag c & b Muralitharan    293
(366m, 254b, 40x4, 7x6)
Dravid c P J’dene b Welegedara    74
(217m, 147b, 5x4, 1x6)
Tendulkar b Kulasekara    53
(139m, 103b, 6x4)
Laxman c Kulasekara b M’tharan    62
(154m, 91b, 8x4)
Yuvraj c Mathews b Herath    23
(61m, 42b, 2x4)
Dhoni (not out)    100
(154m, 154b, 3x4, 6x6)
Harbhajan b Muralitharan    1
(5m, 3b)
Zaheer c Kulasekara b M’tharan    7
(51m, 51b)
Sreesanth lbw Herath    8
(26m, 11b, 1x4)
Ojha (not out)    5
(51m, 14b, 1x4)
Extras (LB-3, NB-10)    13
Total (for 9 wkts decl, 163.3 overs)    726.
Fall of wickets: 1-221 (Vijay), 2-458 (Sehwag), 3-487 (Dravid), 4-558 (Tendulkar), 5-591 (Laxman), 6-610 (Yuvraj), 7-615 (Harbhajan), 8-647 (Zaheer), 9-670 (Sreesanth).
Bowling: Welegedara 30-3-131-1 (nb-6), Kulasekara 20-1-105-1, Her-ath 53.3-2-240-3, Muralitharan 51-4-195-4 (nb-1), Mathews 6-0-36-0 (nb-3), Dilshan 3-0-16-0.
SRI LANKA (II Innings):
Paranavitana (batting)    8
(10m, 15b, 1x4)
Dilshan (batting)    3
(10m, 3b)
Total (for no loss, 3 overs)    11
Bowling: Harbhajan 2-0-7-0, Ojha 1-0-4-0.

Third day’s highlights

* The mammoth total of 726-9 decl is India’s highest total in Tests surpassing their previous highest total of 705-7d against Australia at Sydney in Jan 2004. 

* Sehwag became only the fourth batsman in Tests to be dismissed when on the threshold of scoring a triple hundred. 

* The other three are – Vivian Richards (291 vs England at The Oval in Aug 1976), Martin Crowe (299 vs Sri Lanka at Wellington in Jan 1991) and Ramnaresh Sarwan (291 vs England at Bridgetown in Feb-2009).

* Sehwag’s 293 is the third highest individual score against the Lankans.  Younis Khan of Pakistan holds the record with 313 at Karachi in Feb 2009 and Kiwi Martin Crowe’s knock of 299 at Wellington in Jan 1991.

* Sehwag and Dravid put on a record partnership of 237 runs for the second wicket against Sri Lanka surpassing the previous highest of 232 runs between  Ramesh and Dravid at Colombo (SSC) in Feb 1999.

* Rangana Herath became the most expensive bowler for Sri Lanka in Test cricket.  His spell of 3 for 240 surpassed fellow spinner Muralitharan’s 2/224 vs Australia at Perth in Dec 1995. 

* It is also the most expensive bowling figures against India. Jason Krejza of Australia had conceded 215 runs for his eight wickets at Nagpur in Nov 2008.

K R GURURAJA RAO

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