Kumble strikes after Murali's magic
On a day when two legendary spinners strutted their stuff, the pendulum swung from one side to another before India edged ahead in an engrossing battle at Delhi. Muttiah Muralitharan's sorcery engineered a sensational collapse and Sri Lanka solidified their advantage with two contrasting half-centuries but Anil Kumble ensured India had the final say with a flurry of wickets late in the day.
Once Murali had wrecked the Indian innings with a mystical combination of offbreaks and doosras - when seven wickets fell for 36 - Marvan Atapattu's chisel and Mahela Jayawardene's paintbrush consolidated Sri Lanka's position on a sluggish pitch. But Jayawardene's dismissal at a crucial juncture, attempting a casual sweep to a ball that kept a bit low, gave India a small opening, one that Kumble capitalised on with customary deadliness.
Once he broke through, Kumble, who was largely ineffective till then, was in a ravenous mood and he ended the day with a series of snorters that appeared to be getting more and more venomous with every ball. Thilan Samaraweera was exposed against a fastish legbreak; Tillakaratne Dilshan was felled with a classical Kumble flipper; and Atapattu, who anchored the innings with composure, was undone by a fizzer at the stroke of stumps. Sri Lanka had lost four wickets for 23 and were still 92 runs adrift, as their advantage was wrenched away by a man who often basks under the Delhi sun.
If Kumble was lethal, Murali was plain magical. His 5 for 23 this morning, under overcast skies where seam bowling appeared a better option, was a stunning exhibition as he ripped the ball either way, with varying degrees of turn but always with tremendous bite. And as any batsman would tell you, there is absolutely no chance of survival when you have no idea which way the ball is spinning - and how sharply it is turning. In his very first over of the day, and fifth of the morning, Murali ripped one across Sourav Ganguly's pad and triggered a sudden slump.
Irfan Pathan poked hesitantly, Sachin Tendulkar, after a memorable day yesterday, missed a paddle-sweep, and Murali's staggering 48th five-wicket haul in Tests turned the game around in a trice. The doosra was delivered at will and the ball that castled Mahendra Singh Dhoni would surely be a contender for ball of the year - pitching on leg and zipping past the defensive bat to rattle off stump - and one that would have made another spinning great, Shane Warne, stand up and applaud. In about an hour, Murali had put an end to all hangovers that had gripped the nation yesterday and in 10.4 overs, he had as many wickets as what 146 overs had got him in his three previous Tests in India.
Having restricted India to 290, Sri Lanka carried on the fightback through Atapattu and Jayawardene. Atapattu was fortunate to see three inside edges elude the stumps but was soon in his stride with some typically flourishing drives peppering the off-side boundary. He was decisive in his footwork while countering the spinners, mostly looking to play straight as he guarded against the low bounce on a sluggish pitch.
In Jayawardene, he had an ally who unsettled the bowlers' rhythm and motored along at a fair clip. The dash with which Jayawardene waltzed down the track to the spinners, interspersed with cover-drives that took the breath away, made one sit back and revel in the strokeplay, even momentarily forgetting the context of the match. The free-flowing arcs that Jayawardene's bat describes, especially when slog-sweeping the spinners with consummate ease, can provide quite a thrill and he occasionally conjured up cheeky shots that left the bowlers clueless.
His dismissal, though, proved to be a critical pivot on which the game turned with Kumble once again reminding all of his colossal value to the side, especially when India have their backs to the wall.
Sourav Ganguly lbw b Muralitharan 40 (254 for 4)
Not offering a shot to a sharp offbreak
Yuvraj Singh c Mubarak b Bandara 0 (255 for 5)
Misses a straight one while trying to turn it to the leg side
Sachin Tendulkar lbw b Muralitharan 109 (255 for 6)
Misses a paddle-sweep; ball appeared to be missing leg stump
Irfan Pathan c Mubarak b Muralitharan 0 (255 for 7)
Poked hesitantly; easy catch for short leg
Mahendra Singh Dhoni b Muralitharan 5 (260 for 8)
Bamboozled by a stunning doosra; rattled off stump after pitching on leg
Anil Kumble b Bandara 8 (271 for 9)
Played all over a flighted legbreak
Harbhajan Singh b Muralitharan 7 (290 all out)
Foxed by a doosra that spins big
Avishka Gunawardene lbw b Pathan 25 (54 for 1)
Missed one that cut in; ball appeared to be missing leg stump
Kumar Sangakkara c Kumble b Pathan 3 (62 for 2)
Jabbed at a short and wide delivery; popped it straight to gully
Mahela Jayawardene lbw b Kumble 60 (175 for 3)
Fails to make contact while sweeping a straight low ball
Thilan Samaraweera b Kumble 1 (179 for 4)
Comprehensively beaten by a ripping legbreak
Tillakaratne Dilshan lbw b Kumble 0 (179 for 5)
Clueless against a flipper that kept a bit low
Marvan Atapattu c Gambhir b Kumble 88 (198 for 6)
Inside edges a faster one; brilliantly taken at short leg
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo.