Dilshan ton leads confident Sri Lankan reply
Tillakaratne Dilshan became the first Sri Lankan to score a century in India since 1997 (and fifth overall), to go with Sri Lanka's good bowling start to the second day, but India clawed their way back in the final session through a rousing spell by Zaheer Khan followed by some testing spin bowling. Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera signalled the return to Test-match mode: they defended watchfully, and waited for bad deliveries, which was hardly the case in the first five sessions. Through that spell of play, they also ensured Sri Lanka held the upper hand.
The highlight of the day, though, was Dilshan's remarkable knock. It was not all slam bang: his boundary shots were blocked by India, but he displayed the other aspect of his game - placing the ball and scampering through for runs. It was an equally smart bowling effort in the morning session that took India's last four wickets for 41, crucially Rahul Dravid for no addition to his overnight 177.
It seemed MS Dhoni thought Dilshan played only one game, and gave Zaheer Khan a deep point, a deep fine leg and a deep square leg in the first over. Zaheer started with three back-to-back bouncers, hitting the batsman with one of them. But Dilshan refused to be rattled, twice in the first three overs taking singles hitting marginally to the right of Ishant Sharma at mid-on.
Tharanga Paranavitana got a major share of the strike during a 74-run first-wicket partnership, and although not entirely convincing he was effective in punishing width, which he got enough of. Both Zaheer and Ishant managed to disturb him, but never consistently attacked the area around and just outside off stump. When Ishant got three consecutive deliveries to land on middle and leave off, the third one got an edge and with it the first wicket.
Dilshan, at the other end, hardly looked in any discomfort. The mix of patience and urgency proved effective. He didn't get frustrated by good shots fetching him just singles; rather he started manufacturing couples. The in-and-out field suddenly stopped making sense. He went the first 18 balls without a boundary, then hit two in two balls just before lunch, and then faced another 24 balls without a boundary. It didn't reflect in his strike-rate, though: Dilshan had reached 26 off 44.
Zaheer and Ishant bowled good spells after lunch, and while given due respect they were not allowed to settle into rhythm. The spinners were both attacked in their first overs: Harbhajan Singh went for seven in his first over, Amit Mishra was stepped down to and carved for two boundaries in his first.
Kumar Sangakkara got a few loose deliveries to get into the act smoothly, even as Dilshan played the more unconventional shots - the inside-out drives against Harbhajan's offbreaks. Zaheer came back for a spell before tea, and was welcomed by a drive through extra cover and a clever nudge to the third man boundary, which took Dilshan to 78 off just 87 deliveries. The first ball he faced after tea summed up his innings. He stepped out to Mishra who bowled from round the stumps, was beaten in the flight, yet he made room and drove him through extra cover: intent, resourcefulness, and natural skill all in one shot. This century was his third 50-plus score in three innings in Ahmedabad.
After tea, Zaheer found immediate results. Dilshan looked to hook but was cramped by the angle from round the stumps, Sangakkara hooked but found that the ball was still climbing as it reached him. Two wickets fell for five runs, and Harbhajan and Mishra came back looking more menacing, against batsmen who were prepared to defend.
Both spinners found turn and bounce, six runs came in five overs, and Jayawardene had to step out and loft Harbhajan for a six. Both spinners attacked, both batsmen defended resolutely. Harbhajan looked like he would find a gap between Samaraweera's bat and pad, but the batsman kept getting his bat down in time. Mishra drew an edge from Jayawardene with a googly that jumped, but it flew wide of slip. Harbhajan went round the stumps, creating lbw shouts, close but not close enough.
In between both the batsmen demonstrated good footwork. Samaraweera stepped out to get within smothering reach, or creating a driving length. Jayawardene late-cut Harbhajan from round the stumps, after being beaten twice by topspinners. Slowly - only 120 came in the last session after 155 came in 34 overs before that - the 85-run unbeaten partnership left India frustrated.
The confident batting reply was set up by some smart tactics by Sangakkara in the morning session. Chanaka Welegedara got the big wicket of Dravid early, but Harbhajan and Zaheer got four quick boundaries and threatened to run amok. Sangakkara immediately went in for an in-and-out field, drying up easy boundaries, making the tailenders play normal cricketing shots. The spinners stayed patient, and the last three wickets came swiftly.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo