The second Test at the Queen's Park Oval hung in the balance at the start of the third day, waiting for one team to grab the advantage. West Indies' fast bowlers did exactly that, rattling Sri Lanka's top order to reduce them to 32 for 4 in the second innings. However, Thilan Samaraweera's determined hundred brought the match back into balance and his century partnership with Chaminda Vaas set West Indies a target of 253, one which should stretch them on a wearing pitch.
The importance of Samaraweera's century cannot be overstated for the damage caused to Sri Lanka in the first session was severe. West Indies had gained a 16-run advantage in the first-innings, a lead which was merely symbolic. However, Sri Lanka lost their openers before the deficit was wiped out and their best batsmen - Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara - also fell cheaply.
They were 78 for 5 at lunch and Samaraweera responded to the challenge. He shared useful stands of 41 and 26 with Tillakaratne Dilshan and Chamara Silva, but it was with Vaas that he formed a 138-run partnership that hurt West Indies. Sri Lanka added 73 for 1 in the second session and made a sound recovery in the third, during which they extended their lead by 117.
For West Indies it was a familiar story of what could have been. They had immediate success when Jerome Taylor induced an edge from Malinda Warnapura in the second over, which was taken by Sewnarine Chattergoon at third slip. A risky single brought West Indies their second wicket. Sangakkara pushed the ball towards silly mid-off but Taylor was too quick for Michael Vandort and his direct hit left Sri Lanka at 4 for 2.
Sri Lanka needed Sangakkara and Jayawardene to consolidate and see off a hostile opening phase but both batsmen failed. Fidel Edwards went for consecutive fours before he came back to force an inside edge from Jayawardene on to his stumps, while Sangakkara was cramped for room and cut Daren Powell straight to Marlon Samuels at gully.
Sri Lanka were effectively 16 for 4 but Dilshan approached the situation in the way he knew best. He went after Powell, cutting him for four, lofting him over the square-leg boundary and driving powerfully through cover. The aggression rubbed off on Samaraweera and he made use of the width offered by Edwards to cut twice through point and then drove Taylor through mid-on.
Dilshan continued swinging, hooking and cutting but, like the first innings, one expansive shot too many brought about his dismissal. Taylor got one to swing back into the right-hander, which went through the gap between bat and pad to uproot the off stump. Silva too showed signs of fluency, the highlight being a splendid cover drive off Taylor, but he chased at a wide ball and departed for 13, caught by Samuels at gully.
Sri Lanka were struggling at 99 for 6 and though Samaraweera started with consecutive boundaries after lunch, he grew circumspect, and the runs dried up as Dwayne Bravo bowled a hat-trick of maidens while Taylor and Edwards kept the batsmen hopping with sharp bouncers. Samaraweera had a long chat with Vaas when he came to the crease and did not hesitate to rotate the strike. Both batsmen displayed remarkable patience and wore the fast bowlers out, negotiating everything that came their way.
Samaraweera brought up his half-century shortly before tea and did not ease up after the interval. He favoured the off side and in the midst of pushing for ones and twos, punctured the arc between point and mid-off with fluent cuts and drives. He scored 84 runs on the off side, reaching his hundred with consecutive cuts to the third-man boundary, and was also adept at flicking anything full on his pads.
Vaas proved to be an able partner, showing discretion in shot selection, and pulled the steady supply of short balls with success. It became easier to bat after the hardness of the ball wore off and Vaas dug in. He was steadily approaching his half-century when, against the run of play, he edged a cut off Chris Gayle to Denesh Ramdin. Vaas, though, had made an invaluable contribution, scoring 45 and staying with Samaraweera as Sri Lanka pushed their lead past 200.
Vaas' wicket forced Samaraweera to step up the pace and he was dismissed while trying to complete a risky second run. Samuels' diving save at third man and powerful throw found Samaraweera well short of his crease. West Indies eventually wrapped up Sri Lanka for 268 to end the day. The chase won't be easy against the wiles of Muttiah Muralitharan and the pin-point accuracy of Vaas.
Murali had earlier tormented the West Indian tail as they battled hard for a first-innings lead. He had three close lbw shouts in a row against Ramdin, any of which might have gone his way on another day. After countless lbw appeals, Vaas finally got one in his favour when he hit Taylor plumb in front with a delivery that bent back into the right-hander.
West Indies were 289 for 8 and Murali wrapped up proceedings with a straighter one that found Ramdin's edge to first slip, and a quicker offbreak that struck Powell in front to end the innings on 294. Murali finished with 5 for 79, his 63rd five-wicket haul in Tests.