Jaffer and Gambhir help Indians to a draw
Sri Lanka A 266 and 248 for 7 dec (Vandort 117) drew with Indians 238 for 5 dec and 187 for 6 (Jaffer 55, Gambhir 53*)
Warding off a scare before the final Test at The Oval, the Indian batsmen held on for a hard-fought draw on the final day of their tour game at Grace Road. The Sri Lankans will rue declaring a bit too late, leaving the Indians an improbable 294 to chase in 57 overs. In the end, they didn't have enough time to polish off the tail.
At 152 for 6 with 15 overs to go India were staring at a morale-shattering defeat but Gautam Gambhir's calm half-century, his second of the match, defied the Sri Lankans. Instead of withdrawing into a shell Gambhir remained positive, going for his shots when given the chance to pilot the team through to stumps. Both Rangana Herath and Dammika Prasad were causing problems but Gambhir's hour-long stand with Ramesh Powar ensured that the Indians continued their undefeated run on this tour.
Until the action-filled final hour, a couple of laidback innings brightened what threatened to be a drab day. Michael Vandort's assertive century stretched the Sri Lankans' lead to 293 before Wasim Jaffer responded in typically languid style. Vandort was the bully who waited to pounce; Jaffer, the artist who simply waved the brush. Both reeled off joyous drives, used their feet against spin and batted with an air of effortlessness. In a situation that could have led to drudgery, both injected a vital spark.
A 57-run second-wicket stand between Jaffer and Yuvraj Singh allowed the Indians to sniff an unlikely win. Yuvraj's 33 was chancy - he was dropped early and survived a big shout for caught behind - but bristled with crackling strokes on both sides of the wicket. In the eighth over, delivered by left-armer Chanaka Walegedera, he ripped fours through square leg, midwicket and cover, telegraphing his intentions of going for the victory target.
His dismissal, though, trapped lbw while trying to paddle-sweep offspinner Dilruwan Perera, set the match on course for a draw. Jaffer continued to prosper and brought up his fifty with a delicious cover-drive struck on the up. Waltzing down the track to Perera, he lofted as if enjoying a net, smacking him for a handsome six over long-off. It was all too easy until he was deceived by the left-arm spin of Herath and popped an inside edge back to the bowler. Two more quick wickets caused some flutters but Gambhir downed the shutters calmly.
Twelve wickets fell on a day when conditions were ideal for batting. Vandort, resuming on 61, dispatched the bowling to different parts, pounding straight-drives with minimum fuss. Tall and usually taking a big stride forward, he was aggressive in bursts - a string of dot balls being followed by a couple of meaty blows.
Perera, his partner this morning, fell one short of a well-deserved half-century and Malinda Warnapura capped a forgettable game with a first-ball duck, prodding unconvincingly. It was only because of Kaushal Lokuarachchi and Dammika Prasad that the Sri Lankans could boost their total. Both used agricultural methods - mowing across the line with abandon - and took on the spinners. Prasad's two sixes pushed the total to 248 before his attempt at a third saw him caught at long-off.
Despite the final-day stumble the Indians will leave Leicester upbeat, especially with their captain, Rahul Dravid, striking form with an assured half-century in the first innings. However, a couple of issues remain: one surrounding Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who didn't keep wicket for most of this game and endured two batting failures, and another involving Anil Kumble, who didn't make any sort of impact in his 20 overs. It's unlikely, though, that either will sit out at The Oval.
How they were out
Dilruwan Perera run-out (Gambhir/Karthik) 49 (115 for 2) Pushed to mid-off and took off; couldn't make it when sent back
Malinda Warnapura c Karthik b Bose 0 (115 for 3) Fished tentatively outside off
Michael Vandort c Bose b Powar 117 (196 for 4) Holed out to long-off
Thilan Samaraweera c and b Powar 24 (205 for 5) Lobbed a straightforward catch back to the bowler
Kaushal Lokuarachchi c Kumble b Laxman 16 (217 for 6) Slog-swept straight to short midwicket
Dammika Prasad c Karthik b Gambhir 21 (248 for 7) Couldn't clear long-off while going for a big one
Dinesh Karthik b Walagedera 9 (9 for 1)\ Didn't account for the inswing from the left-armer and lost his leg stump
Yuvraj Singh lbw b Perera 33 (66 for 2) Missed a straight one trying to paddle-sweep
Mahendra Singh Dhoni lbw Prasad 1 (73 for 3) Trying to pull to one that kept slightly low
Wasim Jaffer c and b Herath 55 (116 for 4) Mis-timed drive popped back to the bowler
VVS Laxman lbw Herath 3 (122 for 5) Playing back, struck in front
Rahul Dravid lbw b Prasad 15 (152 for 6) Nipped back to trap him in front
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo