Late strikes put India on top
Just as they had done on the second day, with the light fading rapidly and Sri Lanka fighting gallantly, India's bowlers, led by Anil Kumble, winkled out crucial wickets and comprehensively tilted the scales, requiring only five more wickets to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Marvan Atapattu, batting with grace under fire to produce his second successive half-century on a pitch that appeared to have lost its bite, played a knock which increased the possibility of a draw but Kumble's twin breakthroughs in between crucial strikes from Ajit Agarkar and Harbhajan Singh all but sealed Sri Lanka's fate. The groundwork had been laid earlier in the day as a cheerful cameo from Mahendra Singh Dhoni and a confident half-century from Yuvraj Singh propelled India to an imposing lead and batted Sri Lanka out of the contest.
To successfully chase 436 would have needed record-breaking heroics and Sri Lanka were jolted early when Avishka Gunawardene fell cheaply for the third time running. Atapattu and Kumar Sangakkara, though, combined to lead a fine counterattack as drive after gorgeous drive pushed Sri Lanka along. Both didn't hold back when the ball was there to be hit and raced along as if harbouring thoughts of an improbable win. Neither was troubled by the spinners and appeared to have the measure of the pitch. Atapattu, who was lucky to survive a confident lbw appeal against Kumble when on 49, was quick to rock back when the ball was pitched short and creamed a few splendid pulls against both the spinners.
With about an hour left, both appeared to be pulling down the shutters but Sangakkara's dismissal - nicking an away swinger from Agarkar - opened a tap. Atapattu once again fell when a century was in his sights, patting a well-flighted delivery back to Kumble, and Malinga Bandara, the nightwatchman, was undone by a fierce straighter one, though replays showed the ball to have brushed bat before hitting pad. Thilan Samaraweera's attempted drive to a Harbhajan doosra landed straight in Rahul Dravid's hands at first slip and Sri Lanka had lost four wickets for 14 and seen their hopes of saving the game rapidly fade away.
Gloomy skies in the morning session meant that both Yuvraj and Sourav Ganguly, the overnight batsmen, needed to watch their guard. Just 15 runs came in the first 10 overs, with both batsmen having to contend with low bounce on a sluggish pitch. Muttiah Muralitharan's doosra, always a dangerous weapon, hassled both the batsmen on a few occasions but the slowness of the pitch allowed both to adjust their strokes at the last moment. Murali managed to get through Ganguly's defences but Yuvraj ensured he didn't give it away, gradually getting on top of the bowling. A crisply swept four off Murali set the tone before a flashing drive off Dilhara Fernando, hit on the up and with brutal force, raced to the cover fence. Assured with his footwork, he handled Murali impressively and kept out a few deliveries that died after pitching.
It was Dhoni, though, who injected some urgency into the innings with characteristic dash. He danced down the track to the second ball he faced from Murali, lofting it over mid-on, and shredded Bandara for a flurry of boundaries just before lunch. He shifted gears immediately after the break and rocketed to his half-century with a series of superb swipes off the spinners, and cashed in after Fernando let off a simple chance when he was on 28. Yuvraj, who had reached his fifty before lunch, provided valuable support as Sri Lanka were probably reminded of the flogging that they had endured in the one-day series.
Sourav Ganguly b Muralitharan 39 (271 for 6)
Inside edged a doosra
Avishka Gunawardene lbw b Pathan 9 (30 for 1)
Trapped in front by a full ball that swung into him
Kumar Sangakkara c Dhoni b Agarkar 33 (109 for 2)
Tried to drive a full outswinger
Marvan Atapattu c and b Kumble 67 (119 for 3)
Came down the track and patted back a flighted delivery
Malinga Bandara lbw b Kumble 0 (119 for 4)
Done in by a faster one; replays showed an inside edge
Thilan Samaraweera c Dravid b Harbhajan 0 (123 for 5)
Attempted to drive a flighted ball through the covers and edged to slip
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo.