Bangladesh resistance delays the inevitable
A smattering of spectators had come to see the obvious denouement to what had hitherto been a lopsided contest but were instead treated to a gritty fightback by Bangladesh. The hope held out by a spirited 86-run opening stand between Shahriar Nafees and Javed Omar and a 67-run stand between Rajin Saleh and Mohammad Ashraful was however frittered away towards the end as Ashraful committed hara-kiri and Bangladesh trailed by 255 runs, with five wickets standing, at stumps at the Sinhalese Sports Club.
Sri Lanka's first challenge was served even before a ball had been bowled. Vaas had fired a barb, perhaps as well-intended advice, at the visitors last evening. "Bangladesh's players should put their heads down, concentrate more. You can't throw away your wicket at this level."
Omar and Nafees seemed to have taken the suggestion to heart. The action began in the fourth over of the day when Omar unleashed three square drives - a couple of which were played uppishly and kept Chaminda Vaas interested in bowling full - that crashed into the cover-point boundary. Nafees drove one elegantly down the ground in the next Vaas over and suddenly the batsmen had begun to find their feet.
But the contest of the first session was between Nafees and Muttiah Muralitharan, who came on in the ninth over. There was a man at deep midwicket and one at long leg yet Nafees went for his slog sweeps. Murali adjusted by bowling fuller and he was drilled down the ground, and once, through the cover region. After he was slog swept for yet another boundary, Murali ripped one full and outside off. Nafees attempted another slog sweep but misjudged the length and the ball went to the left of Murali, who pulled off a sharp catch.
The bowling got more incisive in the second session as the seamers found some reverse swing; Lasith Malinga slung in furious yorkers which dipped in late to threaten the toe if not the stumps, while Vaas got his offcutters to tease the outside edge and the batsmen were on the back foot.
Malinga was the first to strike. A searing yorker crashed into the back boot catching Omar plumb and leaving him hobbling in pain. Jayawardene immediately went for the kill and replaced Murali with Vaas, who started to get the ball to cut away from the batsmen. Saleh hung on, stabbing at a few that didn't carry to the slips. Habibul Bashar played a few drives but Vaas induced a nick from one such attempted drive.
Even Murali looked more dangerous in the second session. There wasn't much bite in the track, which offered slow spin, and Murali had to rely on flight and variation to test the batsmen. Ashraful and Saleh approached him with different techniques: while Ashraful chose to lunge forward to smother the spin, Saleh preferred to go back and play it off the track. Both edged a few on to the pad to keep the close-in fielders interested but none popped up into the palms.
The game entered the final session, something that had looked remote after Bangladesh's dismal first-innings display. Saleh played an immensely patient knock, the state of play fitted him to a T. All he had to do was defend and forget about scoring runs. He got into a few problems while pressing forward and was reprieved twice, on 37 and 43. On the first occasion he hung his bat out at a Fernando delivery but Kumar Sangakkara let him off at first slip; he then played a loose defensive prod at Murali without leaning fully forward but a simple chance was messed up by Malinga Warnapura at short-leg.
Fernando, who was the best seamer on view in the pre-lunch period, continued to steam in in the last session. Balls leapt up from a sluggish track, surprising the batsmen into ungainly prods. After seeing Saleh hanging back to keep away his short-pitched stuff, he went around the wicket to change the angle. He slipped in a few full-pitched deliveries that went with the angle to beat the bat. He would have got his man had Sangakkara held a relatively simple chance.
Fernando's duel with Ashraful was equally fascinating. There was a volley of bouncers, some of which hit the gloves and a couple crashed into shoulder but Ashraful, who had got out pulling in the first innings, desisted from attacking.
Ashraful was admirably patient for the best part of his stay but the demon of impatience resurfaced every now and then. He had faced 94 balls for just 22 when he charged down the track to Murali to loft him just over mid on. That four had a rather strange effect on Ashraful. He twice tried to reverse sweep Murali in the same over and was lucky to get away the second time when Asad Rauf negated a close shout for lbw.
However, 32 balls after that shout, the adrenalin rush returned to terminate his knock. Saleh had just fallen but Ashraful charged out to Murali only to hole out to long on. The Bangladesh wall had begun to crack.
Sriram Veera is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo