Tillakaratne leads Sri Lankan fightback
Australia 401 and 80 for 3 (Langer 29*) lead Sri Lanka 407 (Tillakaratne 74*) by 74 runs
Hashan Tillakaratne has been under immense pressure after a prolonged run-drought and a losing record as captain, but on the third day in Colombo he scored a battling 74 not out from 201 balls to counter a searing spell from Jason Gillespie and steer Sri Lanka into a position of strength in the third Test against Australia.
Sri Lanka started the day on 239 for 2 in reply to Australia's 401, and thanks to Tillakaratne's efforts they were able to secure a slim six-run lead. Sri Lanka's day then improved in the final extended session, as Australia slumped to 80 for 3, with two wickets falling in the final five balls of the day - Ricky Ponting was caught at slip off Rangana Herath for 20, before the nightwatchman Gillespie fell to Muttiah Muralitharan for 1.
Tillakaratne's tenure as captain will end after the series, selection sources have admitted, but even his place as a batsman had been under threat coming into this match. In 12 innings leading up to this game, stretching back to New Zealand's two-Test tour last April, he had averaged just 16, with a highest score of 45.
But Tillakaratne has a long history of revelling in adversity, and it was no surprise that he chose today, with the guillotine hanging by a thread, to finally rediscover his form. It was not a fluent innings - Tillakaratne's rarely are - but it was admirable for its fighting qualities, and was invaluable to his team.
Tillakaratne added 71 for the sixth wicket with Thilan Samaraweera, and 51 for the seventh with Chaminda Vaas. Both were tenacious partnerships that clawed Sri Lanka back into the game after they had slipped to 256 for 5, following the loss of Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Marvan Atapattu in the first half hour.
Gillespie, who finished with 3 for 96, found his range with his third Delivery of the day, a legcutter that caught Jayawardene on the crease and found the outside edge, to gift Adam Gilchrist a low catch. Jayawardene had not added to his overnight 29. Next ball, Gillespie conjured up something even better, a jaffa that angled in, pitched on the stumps, and held its line to shave the top of Dilshan's off stump (240 for 4).
Gillespie might have also dismissed Atapattu, as a thick edge perfectly bisected the wicketkeeper and a wide first slip. But the let-off was not costly, and Michael Kasprowicz was finally rewarded for his honest toil when Atapattu was bowled by an inswinger. Atapattu's 119, his first century against Australia, and the 12th of his career, spanned 219 balls and included 17 fours (256 for 5).
Tillakaratne, who had survived Gillespie's hat-trick ball with an edgy leg glance, set about laying the foundations for one of the most important innings of his career. He was joined by Samaraweera - averaging 161 at this, his home ground - who came back to the middle order after a groin injury. The pair negotiated the opening spells of Gillespie and Kasprowicz and slowly consolidated.
The one bizarre incident of the morning was a belated appeal against Tillakaratne for hit-wicket. Tillakaratne glanced a single to fine leg and, as the fielders crossed over for the right-hander, Langer was caught on camera flicking the bail off the stumps with his hand. Langer insisted, afterwards, that he was unaware that he'd broken the stumps but the umpires reported him for bringing the game into disrepute.
After lunch, Australia strived for the breakthrough with the second new ball. Tillakaratne and Samaraweera, who cracked eight fours in his 84-ball 41, battled on for the first half-hour, before Gillespie surprised Samaraweera with a lifting delivery, which was gloved down the leg side and pouched acrobatically by Gilchrist (327 for 6).
Tillakaratne and Vaas, however, continued to resist Australia, although the runs came at a trickle. Vaas pulled a couple of short deliveries to the fence off Gillespie, and smacked one glorious cover-drive off Warne. But Warne finally got his man, as he did in Kandy, when Vaas charged down the pitch and missed a slower ball. Warne's race to Courtney Walsh's record had finally resumed after 29 overs of toil (378 for 7).
Darren Lehmann followed his 153 with the bat with a tidy 3 for 50 with the ball, and chipped in with the wicket of Nuwan Zoysa just before tea, courtesy of a smart stumping by Gilchrist. Warne extended his career tally to 513 with the wicket of Herath after tea, before Muralitharan was last man out, after a 17-run last-wicket stand when he mistimed a pull stroke off Kasprowicz.