Sri Lanka v Australia, 1st Test, Galle, 4th day March 11, 2004

A day when Tillakaratne just couldn't make up his mind

The Wisden Verdict by Paul Coupar in Galle

Damien Martyn and Darren Lehmann take a breather during their 206-run fourth-wicket stand © Getty Images
Sri Lanka's position at the end of the fourth day at Galle was bad, and worse than it might have been, thanks to some confused captaincy.

They will almost certainly spend tonight hoping for rain rather than expecting victory. Three overs before the close, they began their second innings with 352 runs needed to win, or a long, almost certainly hot, day to bat for a draw. The highest last-innings score ever made in a Galle Test is 269. Tomorrow could well become a repeat of the last Galle Test, when England battled for a dogged draw, only with Sri Lanka this time on the receiving end. There were no victims for the Australian bowlers tonight, as the sun sunk towards the ocean, but they will be back to prey refreshed tomorrow.

It could have been very different. Sri Lanka began the third day 132 ahead with four wickets still in hand. After pathetic and strokeless Sri Lankan batting that morning, Matthew Hayden wrenched the match back yesterday afternoon, when it was Sri Lanka who were applying the pressure. Today Damien Martyn, who watched the ball carefully off the pitch to make his seventh and most gutsy Test hundred, and Darren Lehmann, who used his feet like a flyweight boxer, played with almost unerring concentration to ram home the advantage.

But despite the truly heroic efforts of the Australian batsmen, Sri Lanka `s position might have been better given the steely implementation of some clear-headed tactics by Hashan Tillakaratne.

After failing to make a breakthrough early this morning he had two options. One was attack, with an in-out field, men crowding the bat and the aim of bowling Australia out to leave a small target. This would have been bold. This mosaic of a pitch is still playing very much as it did on day one, only with even less life, and the ball is flying like a puck on ice across the outfield. Still, it was Sri Lanka's best chance of winning a match already slipping away. But after lunch Chaminda Vaas was bowling with one slip and four men on the boundary. The less risky option would have been to decide the game was up and work relentlessly and ruthlessly for a draw.

In the morning session it became clear that Sri Lanka's spinners were hardly deceiving anyone, except Kumar Sangakkara, who was a sieve behind the stumps and let through 15 byes in the innings. At that point, Tillakaratne could have employed offor leg-theory, a la Nasser Hussain. Pack one side of the field and make sure the bowlers get it on one side of the wicket. They might even have picked up the odd wicket through the batsmen's frustration.

Every dot-ball Sri Lanka bowled would have translated into one ball less for their batsmen to face tomorrow. Tillakaratne did use a 6-3 leg-side field for Hayden, but only as part of a plan to get him out sweeping. It finally worked but only after Hayden reached 130.

Perhaps thinking of his image in the newspapers as a negative captain, Tillakaratne fell between the two options. He fudged it. Martyn and Lehmann offered few chances during a nerveless, straight-batted 200-run partnership but there was little pressure on them. And when Martyn did edge one, on 80, there was no slip to take the chance. But Sri Lanka also leaked runs, at nearly four an over.

Australia's batting was superb. But what was needed was a cool assessment of the situation. Sri Lankans must have been wishing their captain of the mid '90s, Arjuna Ranatunga, was out there. Ranatunga, strutting, ruthless, arrogant but always decisive, was often compared with Napoleon. Today Tillakaratne was more like the Grand Old Duke of York: never quite able to make his mind up.

Paul Coupar, the assistant editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, will be following Australia in their Test series in Sri Lanka.