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The Bulletin by Sriram Veera
November 26, 2009
Sri Lanka 229 (Mahela 47, Sangakkara 44, Sreesanth 5-75) and 57 for 4 (Samaraweera 1*, Mathews 2*) trail India 642 (Gambhir 167, Dravid 144, Sehwag 131, Herath 5-121) by 356 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out
Indian cricket's prodigal son Sreesanth returned to international cricket in style with a five-for, and six wickets overall, to leave Sri Lanka staring at defeat in the second Test in Kanpur. Sri Lanka, forced to follow on after tea, were tottering in the second innings still 356 runs adrift with six wickets standing.
Though India's spinners and Sri Lanka's batsmen - the senior-most duo contrived a run-out while following on - contributed to the collapse, most of the work was done by Sreesanth, playing his first international game in 19 months. For nine successive overs in the first session, and for seven on the trot in the second, he ran in hard, hit the deck and found life in a slow pitch. He led the way in the second innings too, removing Tillakaratne Dilshan with a leg cutter, before Sri Lanka started to disintegrate against spin.
Mahela Jayawardene and Prasanna Jayawardene offered some resistance with a 60-run partnership in the first innings but Sri Lanka threatened to implode without much fight in the second. Tharanga Paranavitana was trapped by an arm-ball from Virender Sehwag and Kumar Sangakkara chopped a topspinner from Harbhajan on to the stumps.
However, the decisive moment of the collapse, and something that exposed the visitors' mindset, was the run-out of Mahela, the first-innings top scorer. Sangakkara pushed the ball to the right of a straightish midwicket and called for a suicidal run but Mahela had no chance to beat the throw from Yuvraj Singh. Perhaps the fact that they had lost nine wickets in just over two sessions and yielded their biggest-ever lead to India had knocked the fight out of them.
Or perhaps it was just Sreesanth. Green Park was where he played his last Test 19 months ago before disappearing from the sports pages and becoming an occasional feature on Page 3. Today, he stormed back, lifting India with spells that read 9-2-28-3 in the first session and 7-2-18-2 in the second.
His bowling was sublime through the day but the high point of his redemptive journey was the delivery that gave him his fifth wicket, a peach that cut away from the middle stump line to take out the off stump of the clueless Rangana Herath. The celebration was muted: a folding of palms in prayer and gratitude, the right hand raised to accept the high-fives from his team-mates and the face slowly creasing into a smile. It wasn't dramatic, it wasn't the usual Sreesanth theatrics that make him perhaps the most complex cricketer in this side. Today, those signature self-exhortations at the top of the run-up were rarely seen, as was any special celebration after a wicket.
It was all about the bowling. If he troubled the batsmen with seam movement in the morning, he found some reverse swing post-lunch with the old ball and continued to harass the batsmen. He got the big breakthrough of the second session when he terminated the fighting partnership between the two Jayawardenes. Prasanna had taken an aggressive route, slog sweeping and driving the spinners and, though he faced Zaheer Khan, he didn't have to play Sreesanth till he reached 35. Sreesanth probed Prasanna with 11 testing deliveries that included leg cutters, inswingers and a lovely inswinging yorker but Prasanna stood firm. However, Prasanna chased the 12th, a short and wide one, and got a thin nick through to the keeper.
That was a recurring theme. Sreesanth would severely test the batsmen with a cluster of good deliveries and would invariably pick up a wicket with one slightly wide from the stumps. His pace wasn't frightening (135 kmph was the average), there were no fiery bouncers and he didn't swing it around corners, but what he did was land each ball on a probing line and length, and cut it either way just enough to test the batsmen. He had his share of luck too - two batsmen played on off the inside edge - and Sri Lanka's batsmen didn't tailor their techniques to the demands of the pitch.
Instead of playing as close to the body as possible on a pitch with variable bounce, the batsmen erred by playing away. Tharanga Paranavitana was set up by a bouncer that crashed into his shoulder before he pushed at one cutting away from him. Sangakkara, who faced 24 deliveries from Zaheer Khan today, fell in the first over he faced off Sreesanth. Sangakkara played out three straight deliveries but was lured into a cover drive by a full and wide one, and ended up dragging it on to his stumps. Thilan Samaraweera was the next to go, pushing hard and early at a length delivery cutting away from him.
Not everything went Sreesanth's way though. He produced an edge from his best delivery but it didn't get him a wicket. Jayawardene, on zero, pushed at one that cut away late and got an edge but neither MS Dhoni nor Sachin Tendulkar at first slip went for the catch. It was the wicketkeeper's catch. Jayawardene got another reprieve on 25 when he edged a late cut off Harbhajan to first slip where Rahul Dravid couldn't hold on to a sharp chance. The same thing happened in the second innings too but it didn't matter on either occasion as Mahela couldn't carry on for long.
It was not a completely solo show by Sreesanth, though, as the debutant Pragyan Ojha kept things tight, allowing Dhoni the luxury to attack from the other end. Ojha also got the big wicket of the first innings when he beat the top scorer Mahela in the flight and produced a mishit to mid-on. Ojha also hastened the end of the Sri Lankan innings post-tea by trapping Muttiah Muralitharan in front but Sreesanth was undoubtedly the star today.