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March 11, 2004
Sri Lanka 381 and 3 for 0 need 349 more runs to beat Australia 220 and 512 for 8 dec (Hayden 130, Lehmann 129, Martyn 110, Muralitharan 5-153)
Australia might have had their backs to the wall at the close of the second day, but by stumps on day four their position was as strong as the sturdy 400-year-old Dutch Fort ramparts that ring this Galle Stadium. The turnaround in fortunes was been remarkable and Australia, thanks to centuries from Damien Martyn and Darren Lehmann, can now surely not lose the game after piling up 512 for 8 in their second innings.
Australia, who started the day 32 runs in front, extended their lead to 351 before Ricky Ponting declared shortly before the close. Shane Warne, who tomorrow will have a chance to become the first spinner to take 500 wickets, bowled two overs and Jason Gillespie came perilously close to trapping Marvan Atapattu lbw in his only over.
Muttiah Muralitharan, forced to toil throughout most of the day without success, raised the spirits of a small local crowd in the fading light of the evening with a wicket spree. Australia, hunting for quick runs, lost four wickets for eight runs as Muralitharan grabbed 5 for 153 and completed the 13th ten-for in his career. He also extended his career tally to 496, level with Warne.
Sri Lanka's chances of winning may be very remote - the highest total that they have every successfully chased before was the 326 they scored against Zimbabwe in 1998-99 - but they will back themselves to draw the match on a pitch that has become excruciatingly slow. Australia though, all smiles after their comeback, will look to Warne and Stuart MacGill spin them to a famous win.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, they have injury problems as Sanath Jayasuriya split the webbing on his right hand while fielding off his own bowling. Hospital x-rays revealed no fracture but he needed one stitch. He spent the afternoon nursing the hand with ice and the team management hoped he will be able to grip the bat sufficiently to bat tomorrow if required.
Martyn and Lehmann, contrasting in approach, sapped the self-belief from the Sri Lanka fielders and bowlers during a long hot afternoon as they added 206 for the fourth wicket. Fittingly it was a stand that was rewarded with a record too, as they beat Mark Taylor and Allan Border's 163-run fourth-wicket partnership against Sri Lanka in 1989-90.
Martyn provided the glue with a marathon exhibition of patience, an innings that spanned five-and-a-half hours and 250 balls in intense heat and draining humidity. He was subdued throughout much of the day and rarely fluent, but he was organised and played Muralitharan well. He also played some exquisite off side strokes in his 10 fours.
It was also an innings of defiance, coming as it did with his place in the side in hot contention after a 25-month period without a Test hundred. Simon Katich, who also offers some wrist-spin, was pushing him hard for a berth but he fully justified the faith placed in him by the selectors.
Lehmann, meanwhile, produced a vintage performance, an imposing and inventive innings that dripped experience and emotion. This was the 34-year-old that had played just 16 Tests. He confronted the slow bowlers superbly, using his feet and sweeping in front of square with tremendous power.
But Lehmann's innings was also special because of the context. It came on his comeback from an achilles injury and it came after the tragic death of his close friend, David Hookes, in January. When he reached three figures, for the fourth time in his career, he raised his arms and pointedly looked to the sky. No one doubted why.
The two had come together after the loss of Matthew Hayden, who rode his luck early on against the spinners. He thumped one glorious drive through extra cover off Muralitharan but came within inches of being caught at mid-off from a leading edge. One thin edge off Upul Chandana flew through a vacant slip area and he missed several attempted sweeps.
The sweep shot, one of his most prolific scoring strokes, eventually brought about his downfall against Muralitharan. Having added 24 to his overnight score, he cued a simple catch to Mahela Jayawardene at slip off the toe of his bat. Hayden had scored 130 from 211 balls and hit 12 fours and two sixes (245 for 3).
Lehmann should have lasted just two balls as he poked Muralitharan's wrong 'un straight to short leg. But Tillakaratne Dilshan, his fingers bandaged like a paranoid pianist, fumbled the catch. Lehmann never looked back, adopting a no-nonsense approach and unsettling Sri Lanka's spinners with his inventiveness. He shuffled across his stumps and he shovelled to leg. Every now and then he biffed straight down the ground and puffed out his chest. He was intimidating and devilishly difficult to bowl to, finishing with 129 from 214 balls having hit 16 fours and one six.
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