Muralitharan leaves India in tatters
Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis shook the SSC pitch out of its slumber after the Sri Lankan batsmen given them a mountain of runs as a cushion, and the new-ball bowlers had done their bit in taking the shine off the ball. Once the spinners came on, the batsmen were either mesmerised or stunned -- both, in rapid succession, in the case of Rahul Dravid -- and when bad light stopped play on the third day, India were 242 adrift of the follow-on with only four wickets left.
All eyes were on Mendis and he delivered a spectacular blow in pegging back Rahul Dravid's off-stump, but it was the old master who caused the most damage with four wickets, though the relentless pressure from the other end would have helped.
It was in stark contrast to India's start. After 162 overs on the field, Virender Sehwag and Gambhir finally got a chance to bat and the featherbed of a pitch allowed the pair to hit their stride quickly. Sehwag was especially aggressive, hitting five boundaries in the first five overs. But he threw it away when he failed to control a hook off Nuwan Kulasekera, which landed down Malinda Warnapura's throat at deep square-leg.
Six overs before tea, Mendis was introduced. In three overs, he got Gambhir to jab at sliders twice, but Gambhir had his way when he feasted off two full tosses. With his last ball before tea, Mendis beat Dravid with a legbreak, and suddenly the dull match had come alive.
Post-tea, Sri Lanka inflicted maximum damage. Particularly Murali, who drew Gambhir - on 39 - out of the crease but the ball dipped and a leading edge was snapped up at cover. The next over, Dravid had no answer to a Mendis special: the "carrom" ball was quick, pitched just short of a length on middle stump, and turned just enough to beat the poke and take the top of off stump. Not bad for a first Test wicket, a mention Mendis wouldn't mind on his CV.
In two overs, the game had changed. The pitch, so long a calm sea, had turned choppy. Every ball bowled by the spinners - who were bowled unchanged - required immense concentration, something Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly displayed for about an hour. Mendis and Murali, bowling from round the wicket to the right-hand batsmen, were accurate. Briefly, the batsmen fought back, Ganguly deploying the drive and Tendulkar stepping out to hit Murali and slog-swept Mendis. Then, as the partnership gathered confidence, Tendulkar, on 27, misjudged the amount of break on Murali's doosra. As he looked to withdraw his bat, the ball took the inside edge and hit the stumps.
After the first halt for bad light Ganguly swept Murali, a shot he had employed successfully in getting to 23. This time, however, he didn't spot the straighter one and top-edged towards square leg, where Kulasekera ran in from long leg to take a low catch. Dinesh Karthik reverse-swept the same bowler for a boundary, before Murali foxed him with a doosra, running backwards to take a return catch. VVS Laxman then survived a few anxious moments before stumps.
It rounded off yet another day of domination for the home side. Tillakaratne Dilshan played a part in grinding India down, scoring his first century in three years. India tried to slow the scoring down and delay the inevitable declaration but Dilshan, who resumed on 20, had different ideas. He rocked back and cut the first ball of the day for three to cover, then clipped the first ball of the next over for two. The outfield was slow, India soon employed an in-and-out field, and Dilshan set into a one-day mould, tipping and running, finding gaps in the outfield for two, and going for the occasional boundary. All through, only his head gear changed, from helmet to bare head to the floppy hat. The floppy hat was his only source of discomfort, falling off whenever he sprinted for quick runs.
The true show of intent came in the 10th over of the day, when Dilshan cut Zaheer Khan for a boundary and followed it with a Twenty20-style paddle. In his next over, Zaheer reached his most expensive figures in Test cricket, beating the 3 for 135 he had conceded against Pakistan in Faisalabad in 2005-06. The Indian spinners went round the stumps to Dilshan, with a 6-3 on-side field at times. There was momentary control, but Dilshan pulled and swept effectively, hitting Kumble for a four and a six in one over to move to 89. With handy support from Chaminda Vaas, Sri Lanka added 178 runs in 42 overs on the third day, Dilshan scoring 105 of those off 115 balls.
Sri Lanka piled up four centuries, while their opponents barely looked like managing even one after an abject batting display.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo