Dhoni ton gives India 333-run lead
In the fourth over of the day, Muttiah Muralitharan got one to dip on Virender Sehwag. For a change Sehwag played in front of his body and scooped it back to Murali, who took the catch after a juggling act. Having added nine to his overnight 284, Sehwag became the fourth man to be dismissed in the 290s. And just after the standing ovation, the cricket came out of a trance. The ball started turning again, the bowlers bowled to a plan again, the scoring settled to a more human rate, and India moved - albeit slowly - to a big first-innings lead. Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid missed out on centuries, but MS Dhoni scored his third, and then left Sri Lanka just three overs to negotiate in the evening. Despite Dhoni's late hitting, India scored only 283 runs today - Sehwag alone scored 284 yesterday.
By the time Sehwag got out, he had put India 63 ahead. Dravid, after surviving an edge that the umpire missed, followed him, edging Chanaka Welegedara to the keeper having added 12 to his overnight 62. In between those wickets, though, Tendulkar played his shots, vertical-sweeping Murali twice just to the left of the keeper and pulling and driving against the turn for two other boundaries. By the time Dravid got out, Tendulkar had reached 22 off 26 but he slowed down after that, knowing he needed to make sure India batted just once.
The slowing down was also because Rangana Herath and Murali found some rhythm. Murali even bowled a maiden - his first in 75 overs from the second innings in Ahmedabad. He kept VVS Laxman quiet by bowling from round the stumps, with a strong leg-side field, and India scored 49 runs in 18 overs between Dravid's dismissal and lunch. In the last over before lunch, there was reason to cheer for Sri Lanka: the innings run-rate came below five.
Post lunch, Tendulkar crossed 50 for the 97th time in Tests. Laxman opened up after a dry spell, taking 12 runs off one Welegedara over that included the drive from outside off to wide of mid-on. In the next over, though, Nuwan Kulasekara breached Tendulkar's defence with an offcutter.
Laxman continued punishing Welegedara and went from 27 in 64 balls to 50 in 79. But soon, looking for a big shot off Murali, he was done in by a doosra.
The story of the first two sessions, though, was Herath. Easily the pick of Sri Lankan bowlers, he had the batsmen guessing, mixing his offbreaks and straighter ones to good effect. The carrom ball stayed in the batsmen's minds too, but it seemed everyone - the umpires, his own keeper and slip fielders - had conspired against Herath.
First the umpire had missed that edge off Dravid. Then Herath had a close lbw shout against Tendulkar when the batsman was 35. The umpire thought it would have missed leg, Hawk-Eye said it would have just hit. Then he had Yuvraj Singh groping as if blindfolded. When Yuvraj finally stepped out and missed another arm ball, Prasanna Jayawardene, arguably the best keeper to spin, couldn't collect it. That miss cost them only 15, though, as Yuvraj sliced the same bowler to deep mid-off. But that wasn't the end of Herath's rotten luck: two balls later he got MS Dhoni to edge one and Mahela and Dilshan - at slip and second slip - saw it go through that little gap. And then, when looking to dismiss the tail early, he saw Prasanna drop Zaheer Khan.
Murali, who was bowling with an injured right hand and using his feet to field, representing very much the beaten figure his team had been reduced to, enjoyed better luck. Harbhajan was bowled when going for a reverse-sweep, Kulasekara took a good tumbling catch to dismiss Zaheer.
But again, Herath remained instructive of how the day went. Dhoni was on 50 when No. 11, Pragyan Ojha, walked in. Ojha contributed five to the unbeaten 56-run stand. Dhoni hogged the strike, choosing to score mainly in sixes. And he whiplashed Herath for five of them, three straight, one over midwicket, and the final one over long-on and out of the stadium. He also hooked Welegedara for one. In the whole record-breaking spree, the last one belonged to India: they scored their highest Test total, beating the 705 for 7 against Australia in Sydney.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo