Harbhajan spins it India's way
Sri Lanka 131 for 5 (Sangakkara 41, Atapattu 40, Harbhajan 4-24) trail India 398 (Laxman 104, Pathan 82) by 267 runs
Harbhajan Singh racked the Sri Lankan top order, taking 4 for 24 as Sri Lanka limped to 131 for 5 in reply to India's 398. It was a frustrating day for them: first, their bowlers failed to skittle out the remaining Indian batsmen, who added 151 to the overnight score of 247 for 6, with VVS Laxman making 104 and Irfan Pathan making 82; and then their batsmen handled Harbhajan's offspin inadequately.
Marvan Atapattu and Kumar Sangakkara had shown signs of defiance, adding 60 after Upul Tharanga was out with the score on 14. But Harbhajan changed all that. First, he induced a mistake from Atapattu, on 40, who top-edged a sweep to Virender Sehwag (74 for 2). The very next ball, Mahela Jayawardene was defeated by spin and bounce, gloving a ball that turned into him to Mohammad Kaif at forward short leg. Not long afterwards, Thilan Samaraweera, on the back foot, tapped a similar delivery to Kaif (82 for 4.)
Sangakkara was the next to go, for 41, bowled around his legs as he bent down to sweep (105 for 5). Tillakaratne Dilshan and Jehan Mubarak kept the innings together till the close of play, but it was all so ironic: just a day after they had reduced India to 97 for 5, they were in danger of being made to follow on. The credit for that had to go as much to India's batsmen as to Harbhajan.
The story of India's innings lies in these numbers: 86, 125, 37, 39, 14. These are the partnerships, totalling to 301, that their batsmen put together after they lost those five early wickets. VVS Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni had added 86 yesterday, and Laxman and Irfan Pathan extended their overnight partnership of 64 to 125 today. And after these men were out, Ajit Agarkar, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan all chipped in to take India close to 400. Through all this, Sri Lanka bowled with fire, fielded with vigour, but were simply outbattled.
They began the day with some sharp bowling, but the batsmen were up to it. Lasith Malinga was more accurate than on the first day, not overdoing the short-pitched stuff, troubling the batsmen with a fuller length than yesterday. He induced a couple of edges and false shots from Laxman, who was otherwise unflappable. Compact and assured, Laxman played the ball late and eschewed strokeplay.
Muttiah Muralitatharan, no stranger to wrapping up innings, gave the ball a lot of rip and extracted prodigious turn, but the Indians were unruffled. Pathan was watchful when the length of the ball was good, but quick to step up to the pitch of the ball when he got a chance, and unfraid to loft.
It was Farveez Maharoof who eventually struck, as Laxman was beaten and bowled by an incoming ball (308 for 7). His 104 was his ninth Test century, in a career that has featured many exceptional innings but is invoked for just one.
At such times, seven wickets down, all their specialist batsmen out, India tend to panic. But Pathan and Agarkar, once touted as an allrounder, batted sensibly. Pathan mixed solid defence with some lusty strokeplay, seeing off testing spells from both Malinga and Muralitharan. It was Maharoof who finally trapped him lbw, as he stepped a bit too across to a ball, bowled from over the wicket, that pitched on leg and would have hit off stump (345 for 8).
Agarkar and Kumble, playing his 100th Test, then had a partnership that spanned 73 balls, as Sri Lanka's early advantage became just a memory. They were out in quick succession, but India's bowlers, by then, had plenty runs on the board to defend. And they got to work.
VVS Laxman b Maharoof 104 (308 for 7)
Beaten and bowled by an incoming delivery
Irfan Pathan lbw Maharoof 82 (345 for 8)
LBW playing down the wrong line
Ajit Agarkar b Malinga 26 (384 for 9)
Stuck on the back foot, played across, missed the line
Anil Kumble v Jayawardene b Bandara 21 (398)
Mistimed slog to midwicket.
Upul Tharanga c Dhoni b Pathan 2 (14 for 1)
Edged a good-length outswinger
Marvan Atapattu c Sehwag b Harbhajan 40 (74 for 2)
Top-edged an attempted sweep
Mahela Jayawardene c Kaif b Harbhajan 0 (74 for 3)
Surprised by spin and bounce, gloved a ball to forward short leg
Thilan Samaraweera c Kaif b Harbhajan 1 (82 for 3)
Tapped to short leg, off the back foot
Kumar Sangakkara b Harbhajan 41 (105 for 5)
Bowled round his legs trying to sweep
Amit Varma does odd jobs around Cricinfo, which includes writing the blog 23 Yards.