Sri Lanka ride on Sangakkara ton in keen contest
It was good old-fashioned Test cricket on the second day - an examination of patience, will and concentration - and Kumar Sangakkara kept Sri Lanka's nose ahead with a patient century. After Chaminda Vaas and Sangakkara had frustrated India in the first session, the Indian spinners fought back in the middle, drying up the runs and getting important wickets as a result, but they were denied by a rock-solid Sangakkara, and to a lesser extent by the inconsistent umpiring when it came to reviews.
Sangakkara's hundred competed with the review decision that went Thilan Samaraweera's way as the talking point of the day. India had taken two wickets, those of Vaas and Mahela Jayawardene, for four runs to reduce Sri Lanka to 141 for 4, and should have made it three for 16 when Kumble's appeal for an lbw against Samaraweera was rejected. In live time, it seemed there might have been an inside edge before the ball hit pad, but the replays clearly showed the ball hit the pad first. The impact was 40% inside the mat - as it was with Rahul Dravid when he was given out yesterday - and the ball would have gone on to hit the middle stump three-fourths of the way up. For some reason, though, the original decision was upheld, which left the Indians irate. Sachin Tendulkar, who had injured his elbow earlier, even signalled "out" from the dressing room. Samaraweera was on 5, then, and went on to score 35, and more importantly, put together a 60-run partnership with Sangakkara at a crucial juncture.
Nothing should take away from Sangakkara, though, who curbed his stroke-playing instincts, realising that his wicket would have been critical. He made a dicey start in the morning with an uppish boundary past a diving Rohit Sharma at point, but was determined to make amends for his ordinary series till then. Before this Test, his average in 2008 was close to 24. Twice in the previous Tests, Zaheer Khan had caught him in the crease, making him play at legcutters. This time, though, Sangakkara consciously got on to the front foot, especially against Zaheer. Once he saw Zaheer off, there were no signs of struggle, and he was severe on anything loose.
A big chance arrived for India when Sangakkara, on 34 then, edged a faster one from Kumble, but Rahul Dravid failed to latch on to what would have been a spectacular slip catch. To rub salt in, Sangakkara came up with an exquisite cover-drive off Harbhajan in the next over.
After lunch India came out determined to make runs hard to get. In the first session Sri Lanka had managed 100, while in the first 11 overs of the second they got only 23. Harbhajan kept bowling outside off, while Kumble - from round the stumps - got purchase from the pitch. Vaas, the night-watchman who took ownership of the house in the first session, was strangled: he survived two close calls in one Kumble over, and in Harbhajan's next, lobbed an easy catch to extra cover, falling two runs short of achieving the double of 3000 runs and 300 wickets. Harbhajan then beat Jayawardene with an offbreak, and for once Jayawardene got the review call wrong. He was given out lbw and that's how it stayed.
That was when Sangakkara dug deeper, not falling for India's tactics, scoring 27 runs in the middle session. Bar one shot, he was a picture of discipline. Even that shot was perhaps a statement - I can hit those, but I don't want to. To a full, wide offbreak from Harbhajan - a similar one had been called wide earlier - Sangakkara went down on one knee and swept to midwicket for four. As he approached his 17th century, the Indians kept getting meaner on him. In moving from 76 to 99, he took 56 balls, and hit only one boundary.
India suffered injury setbacks through the day. VVS Laxman had twisted his ankle in fielding practice before the start of the play and didn't take the field. After tea Ishant Sharma became the third casualty when he tumbled during his follow-though, not for the first time in the series, hurt his hip, and had to go off the field. Still, the bowlers put up a brave show overall. The Harbhajan-Kumble duo worked well in the middle session, and Zaheer bowled a testing spell after tea, giving away 21 runs in eight overs and eventually getting Samaraweera out with a delivery that bounced and left the batsman.
Tillakaratne Dilshan, as usual, came out full of intent, and in partnership with Sangakkara started to break free. For 12 overs at one point towards stumps, Sri Lanka didn't score a boundary, getting only 27 runs, but once Dilshan cut loose things began to look ominous for India. But Kumble, unfortunate not to have got a wicket till then, struck at the right time with a topspinner. Dilshan asked for the review, but he had been caught plumb. Given the tendency of lower orders to collapse dramatically, and also that Sri Lanka have to bat last, it would be brave to say that Sri Lanka have a clear advantage.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo