Fast bowlers tighten Sri Lanka's grip on Kandy Test
Sri Lanka's grip on this three-Test series tightened after an industrious performance by their fast bowlers and poor umpiring secured them a useful first innings lead at Asgiriya International Stadium today.
A sparkling cameo by Harbhajan Singh had threatened to resuscitate India's hopes after another top order collapse, but Sri Lanka eventually secured a 42 run lead when they dismissed the tourists for 232 and they then extended that to 94 before bad light stopped play.
India, at least, secured some consolation when they grabbed the prize wicket of Sanath Jayasuriya. If they can make early inroads in the morning then they still have a chance, but batting last will not be easy on this wicket and the lead, in the context of a low scoring Test, already looks healthy.
In recent times Test matches in Kandy have been tense affairs, punctured by umpiring controversies. South Africa defeated Sri Lanka last year by just six runs and England squeezed home in March by four wickets in a cantankerous contest marred by a pitiful umpiring. This Test has not been bad tempered, but there has been tension and umpiring blunders have already made their mark.
India suffered today. Local umpire Tyronne Fernando started his Test career with two poor leg-before decisions, soon after India wrapped the Sri Lankan innings for 274 after just three balls this morning, and both umpires bizarrely missed a succession of no balls from fast bowler Dilhara Fernando, one of which accounted for the wicket of Mohammad Kaif.
Shiv Sunder Das (8) looked shocked to be given out when he clearly edged an inswinger from Chaminda Vaas onto his pads and Rahul Dravid (15), who was batting serenely, was unlucky to have been sent on his way having been hit above the roll of his front pad. India were 36 for two.
Sourav Ganguly (18) and Sadagoppan Ramesh (47) reacted positively: Ganguly displayed signs of form with a graceful cover drive off Chaminda Vaas and a controlled square drive off Ruchira Perera, whilst Ramesh clipped efficiently off his pads and drove cleanly straight down the ground.
Ganguly, though, was unable to break a wretched run of form in Test cricket, when he tried to drive a wide delivery from Ruchira Perera and skewed a catch to Hashan Tillakaratne in the gully. It is now nine months and 13 innings since Ganguly scored his last Test fifty against Zimbabwe in Delhi.
India were precariously placed at lunch on 90 for three, but then slipped to 123 for five after another fiery burst from Dilhara Fernando. Mohammad Kaif (17) was unable to control a quick short delivery and top edged a catch to gully, whilst Ramesh was squared up and caught behind off the face of his bat to end a patient and determined innings.
Sameer Dighe (28) and Hemang Badani (16) then batted tenaciously for 65 minutes, adding 31 important runs. Badani, however, tried wasted an opportunity to silence a growing band of critics when he miscued a pull and was easily caught at mid on. India went into tea on 161 for six with large first innings deficit looming large.
Harbhajan Singh, however, takes his batting seriously - he forced the photographers to bowl at him on Sundays practice when he had exhausted India's frontlint bowlers - and with his limited, but effective range of strokes, launched a stunning counter attack after the interval.
He scored 44 off just 32 balls and added 64 runs with Dighe in just 41 minutes. Fernando was cracked impudently for four fours in the first over after tea, two of which were pulls. Muralitharan was then pull-sweep by Dighe and lofted straight down the ground Singh. Sri Lanka's lead was being quickly reduced and their body language betrayed the first signs of panic.
Chaminda Vaas, though, stacked full of confidence after his 42 runs in the first innings and a probing new ball spell, was called back into the bowling attack by Jayasuriya and managed to restore Sri Lanka's initiative, when he trapped Dighe leg before wicket with another full-length inswinger.
His breakthrough rushed the innings towards its close as India lost their last four wickets for 14 runs. Zaheer Khan (0) was snapped up at silly point. Vaas clean bowled Harbhajan Singh after a ungainly slog and Harvinder Singh was completely deceived by Muralitharan's straighter delivery.
India made the best possible start when Sanath Jayasuriya was bowled off his inside edge, but Marvan Atapattu (30*) and Kumar Sangakkara (13*), not without the odd moment of alarm, survived until bad light stopped play.