Just before tea, India looked like they were going to make a match of it at 57 for no loss. But then, a familiar story unfolded. Where do you think the match turned?
Sanjay Manjrekar: The problem that India have had throughout this series is that their bowlers have been out-performed by their Sri Lankan counterparts. India needed to get an early wicket and run through the tail quickly. But they didn't seem to have the bowling attack to do so. They didn't have Ishant Sharma, while Zaheer Khan seems to be dependent on the pitch for creating pressure on the batsmen. Anil Kumble clearly isn't at his best. Harbhajan Singh, we know, is on top when he is getting the ball to spin and bounce; he is most dangerous when he has ripped through the top order.
The Sri Lankan bowling attack looks to be the more potent and that was where India's weakness was shown up in the morning session. The tailenders were able to build substantial partnerships. Prasanna Jayawardene, who has some batting ability, proved to be a difficult batsman to dislodge. Although Kumar Sangakkara was dismissed for 144, India just couldn't wrap up the tail because I don't think they had the potency in their bowling attack do so.
AR:At 57 for no loss, things were looking positive for India. But Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir got out in quick succession. The manner in which they got out would have been a bit disappointing, considering they have been the men in form this series ...
SM: Yes, because if you look at the two deliveries that got Gambhir and Sehwag out, you wouldn't say that they were great deliveries; it was just about Dammika Prasad bowling a fairly good line.
Sehwag's dismissal resulted from one of his stock shots [the cut]. It's just like breathing - you can't stop a guy from breathing and that is the way he plays. That is the shot he plays to a ball on that line and length. He is one batsman that Indian cricket will have to allow to play his natural game even when they are looking to save a game, although he has played differently when he saved a Test for India in Adelaide.
I thought it was Gambhir who let India down more than Sehwag. He has been in good form, he has looked comfortable at the crease and he got a start once again. Knowing that some of his senior colleagues were struggling for form and there was so much uncertainty in that middle order, he should have shown a little more restraint and responsibility. I know he is young, but he has been playing first-class and international cricket for a while. And a man in form has more responsibility to help his team and bail the others out when they aren't in good form. So yes, I am slightly disappointed with the way Gambhir got out in this innings.
AR: India muffed up run-out chances, their fielding was shoddy, we saw what could have been a horrible mix-up between Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid - why do you think the Indians looked so off the boil today?
SM: I think this problem started off with the first innings of this Test series itself. I remember telling you the body language of the senior players wasn't looking good right at the start of the series. You can understand Dravid being uncomfortable because he had been out of form but the others were coming into this series with some runs behind them. I don't know if it was due to the gap between when they last played or if it was the age factor, but they just weren't looking convincing enough as batsmen. And after a couple of failures, they were under pressure.
We saw Sachin Tendulkar padding up to so many deliveries - he has done that in this series as well - and that is very unlike him. So his confidence is down. VVS Laxman's injured ankle further hampered his batting today, but he also hasn't looked comfortable. Ganguly is also feeling the pressure. So these big names weren't looking at their best, but the signs were there right at the start of the series.
AR:Ajantha Mendis has taken the most number of wickets in a three-match debut series. It was said that the more you see him, it would get easier to play him but it seems to have got more difficult for the Indians.
SM: I am amazed at his talent. I hope I am not getting too carried away as there have been other bowlers like [Narendra] Hirwani and L Sivaramakrishnan, who had a great first series. But he has too many things going for him. He has four different deliveries and when was the last time you have seen a bowler who could bowl the googly as well as the offspinner with such great control? He is also hungry for wickets. He seems to be a born bowler who is at you all the time. He just wants to keep bowling and taking wickets like Muttiah Muralitharan. He bowls a great line and has good control as well. He is not also heavily dependent on the pitch. He might have to bowl on some grounds where the pitch is flat, but again, he will be difficult to score off. So he has many things going for him.
The Indians might be starting to pick up his variations a bit better, but his control and the trajectory that he bowls at, is continuing to make things difficult for them. Let's not forget that the Indian middle order wasn't at their best, so they seemed to be struggling even more against him. He didn't look that threatening while bowling to Gambhir or Sehwag.
|The problem that India have had throughout this series is that their bowlers have been out-performed by their Sri Lankan counterparts. India needed to get an early wicket and run through the tail quickly. But they didn't seem to have the bowling attack to do so|
AR: Finally what did you make of the way Dravid played? And what do you think the approach from him and Laxman should be tomorrow if India are to stay competitive in this game?
SM: Dravid came out looking to be a bit more positive. More than feeling confident, I think he was trying to gain it by the way he played. There seemed to be more purpose and strength in his defending and in every shot that he played. He had decided to be more decisive in everything that he did. Sometime when you are in bad form you think 'if I play this shot I am increasing my chances of getting out.' But today, he came and seemed like he had left everything to fate. When you are pushed to the wall and you have no choice, you can get into this frame of mind. Dravid decided not to bother about what he was doing and he got lucky twice, and that must have just reinforced his belief. He must keep doing that on day four as well.
Laxman was clearly hampered by his ankle and his fitness when it comes to fielding, catching and batting, is not improving. That also can be considered as his weakness. So all we have to hope for is that he feels better tomorrow and is not haunted by too many fitness worries.
AR: Thank you for your views Sanjay. We will hear from you again tomorrow.
Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar
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