India on the verge of creating history

India on the verge of creating history

Dhonis men inch closer to gaining No 1 Test spot

India on the verge of creating history

Zaheer Khan celebrates the dismissal of Thilan Samarveera (L) on the fourth day of the final test against Sri Lanka in Mumbai on Saturday. PTI

Kumar Sangakkara’s brilliance and a less than impressive performance from the spinners, notably Harbhajan Singh, on a responsive surface ensured that the hosts’ charge towards victory in the final Test against Sri Lanka was stalled on the penultimate day at the Brabourne stadium.

 In, perhaps, his final Test innings on Indian soil, the Sri Lankan captain stood tall even as wickets fell around him, his first Test hundred in India giving the Islanders a better than fighting chance of staving off an innings defeat.

Trailing by 333 and overnight 11 without loss, the Lankans finished Saturday on 274 for six, the left-handed Sangakkara (133 n.o., 347m, 258b, 19x4, 1x6) and a defiant Nuwan Kulasekara pushing the contest into the final day with an unseparated seventh-wicket stand already worth 66 (72m, 105b). Sri Lanka require 59 runs more to make India bat again, a task not beyond them if their counter-attacking stance of the post-tea session is anything to go by.

For the first four hours, aided by a huge slice of luck and exceptional bowling from the pace pair of Zaheer Khan and S Sreesanth, India had Sri Lanka firmly on the mat. The tide turned in the final session as Sangakkara shed extreme caution on his way to a 21st Test century, crafted beautifully and studded with some of the most handsome strokeplay from any left-hander in this game.

 India will feel they should have got greater value from Harbhajan and, to a lesser extent, Pragyan Ojha. All series long, the bowlers have cried hoarse about the lack of encouragement from pitches in Ahmedabad and Kanpur. Confronted with a strip that aided them with turn and bounce, even if a little slowly, Harbhajan was guilty of not making the batsmen play enough, of not asking the right questions at the right times.

Umpiring error

His only reward for 31 overs of toil came courtesy a massive umpiring error from Daryl Harper, 24 minutes into the day and in the morning’s sixth over. The dangerous Tillakaratne Dilshan, just beginning to hit his straps, padded up to a hugely turning off-spinner well outside off-stump. Harper upheld the concerted appeal, only for television replays to confirm Dilshan’s supreme disappointment – the ball wasn’t merely headed way down leg, the bounce would have carried it significantly above the stumps as well.

For a brief while when he troubled Tharanga Paranavitana by going round the stumps, Harbhajan looked the part. In, however, showing great reluctance to go round the stumps on a consistent basis, he did himself no favours at all. The right-handers easily allowed the ball to fizz from middle and leg through to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the left-handers used the option of kicking away the ball pitched outside leg.

Sangakkara apart, Paranavitana was the only Sri Lankan batsmen who showed the stomach for battle. His second half-century of the Test wasn’t as fluent as the first, but his 90-run (145m, 220b) stand with the captain was just the base the middle-order required as they sought to play out time.

Decisive passage

Paranavitana’s dismissal, almost an hour into the middle session, triggered the day’s most decisive passage of play. The left-hander fell over trying to work Sreesanth to leg, after which Zaheer produced two wonderful deliveries during a burst of 5-3-3-2 to rip out Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera, two men capable of batting long. Ojha accounted for Angelo Mathews last ball before tea as Sri Lanka lost four for 25 in 93 deliveries. At 144 for five, the writing appeared on the wall, a four-day finish on the cards.

Through the carnage, Sangakkara had stood tall. Disappointed at the lack of support but determined to battle on, the 32-year-old brought up his first fifty in India in 145 deliveries, then effortless changed gears after tea.

An aggressive Prasanna Jayawardene helped the skipper steady the ship with a stand of 64, but Sangakkara truly blossomed after the stumper was trapped in front by Ojha, producing some wonderful strokes. Between tea and stumps, he smashed 14 fours and a six while scoring 83 in 107 deliveries. Breathtaking, but not quite enough just yet.

Score board

SRI LANKA (I Innings): 393 all out in 94.4 overs
INDIA (I Innings): 726/9 decl in 163.3 overs
SRI LANKA (II Innings, O/n: 11/0):
Paranavitana lbw Sreesanth    54
(179m, 144b, 8x4)
Dilshan lbw Harbhajan    16
(34m, 27b, 2x4)
Sangakkara (batting)    133
(347m, 258b, 19x4, 1x6)
M Jayawardene c Dhoni b Zaheer    12
(40m, 24b, 1x4)
Samaraweera c Laxman b Zaheer    0
(19m, 13b)
Mathews c Dhoni b Ojha    5
(10m, 8b, 1x4)
P Jayawardene lbw Ojha    32
(58m, 42b, 3x4, 1x6)
Kulasekara (batting)    9
(72m, 45b, 2x4)
Extras (B-8, LB-1, W-1, NB-3)    13
Total (for 6 wkts, 93 overs)    274
Fall of wickets: 1-29 (Dilshan), 2-119 (Paranavitana), 3-135 (M Jayawardene), 4-137 (Samaraweera), 5-144 (Mathews), 6-208 (P Jayawardene).
Bowling: Harbhajan 31-5-70-1, Ojha 23-4-84-2, Zaheer 17-4-51-2 (nb-1), Sreesanth 13-4-36-1 (w-1, nb-2), Sehwag 9-2-24-0.