Sri Lankans build after Dravid finds form
A polished half-century from Rahul Dravid boosted India's preparations ahead of the final Test at The Oval, one where they need to only draw to seal the series. Dravid's assured 67 led a solid batting effort, allowing the Indians to declare after compiling 238 for 5.
The Sri Lankans responded assertively in conditions ideal for batting, stretching their lead to 140 by the end of the day. None of their bowlers made an impact but a 110-run stand between Michael Vandort and Dilruwan Perera continued from where they'd left off in the first innings. With chances of a result being remote, both sides would look for as much batting practice as they can get.
Another sunny day at Grace Road saw batsmen from both sides prosper. India's overnight batsmen, Wasim Jaffer and Gautam Gambhir, played contrasting hands, adding 85 for the second wicket. Jaffer gave away a fluent start; Gambhir made it count after an edgy beginning.
It was Dravid, though, having failed to make a meaningful contribution in the first two Tests, who really needed to find his feet in this match. Walking in twenty minutes before lunch, Dravid had the best conditions to flower. The ball had lost its shine and whatever assistance there was this morning had disappeared.
His first boundary was like a burst of anger - so savage was the cut that it went straight through the legs of the point fielder - but the next five were far more tender. A late-cut, beating both slips and gully, and a clip to midwicket were enough to suggest a calm outlook as he brought up his fifty in 72 balls. He maneuvered the ball around with ease, especially against the spin of Rangana Herath and Kaushal Lokuarachchi. Just as he was beginning to toy with the bowling he decided to declare, allowing his bowlers another shot at the batsmen.
Gambhir was the other half-centurion, though his was a far more jittery knock. Dropped on three, when Herath grassed a diving chance at third slip in the first over of the morning, he overcame several iffy moments early in the piece. It was a charmed existence for most part but just when he appeared to be hitting his stride, cracking boundaries either side of the wicket, he retired. Later, Gambhir said that Dravid declared to make the game more "interesting".
It was Jaffer, though, who set the tone this morning, reeling well-timed drives off the faster bowlers. Cover drives were flowing sweetly from his bat but, when on 48, he advanced down the track to left-arm spinner Herath and spooned a simple catch to mid-on. Just like in the first innings at Trent Bridge, he gave it away when well set. VVS Laxman also fell in a similar fashion - spooning a catch to mid-off - before Yuvraj regaled in a cameo that included two fours and a six. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, promoted to No.5, lasted just two balls, trying to cross-bat one that angled in.
Herath and Dammika Prasad ended up with two wickets apiece but not before receiving some tap. Prasad, who troubled Gambhir early this morning, offered too much width in his spells that followed and Chanaka Walagedera, the left-arm seamer, lost his sting as the batsmen milked him around.
Ishant Sharma started the Indian reply with a first-ball wicket, in the second over of the innings, but the Indians were thwarted for the rest of the day. Vandort brought up his second fifty of the match while Perera, far more assured than he was yesterday morning, provided him good company. Ranadeb Bose's fullish length was punished, costing 42 in eight overs, and Ramesh Powar couldn't prise out wickets like he did last afternoon.
Wasim Jaffer c Ganegama b Herath 48 (105 for 1)
Couldn't clear mid-on while trying to loft
Gautam Gambhir retired out 67 (181 for 2)
Mahendra Singh Dhoni b Prasad 0 (190 for 3)
Played over one that angled into him
VVS Laxman c Prasad b Herath 14 (221 for 3)
Spooned a simple catch to mid-off
Sri Lanka A
Mahela Udawatte c Laxman b Ishant 0 (2 for 1)
Squared up to a short one; sharp catch at second slip
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo