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The Bulletin by Sidharth Monga
July 26, 2008
Sri Lanka 600 for 6 dec (Jayawardene 136, Dilshan 125*, Warnapura 115, Samaraweera 127) beat India 223 (Laxman 56, Murali 5-84, Mendis 4-72) and 138 (Gambhir 43, Murali 6-26, Mendis 4-60) by an innings and 239 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out
In a match dominated by not one but two spin wizards, Sri Lanka completely destroyed the Indian batting line-up twice over to script their best win at home. India started the fourth day needing 242 runs to avoid the follow-on but, with 77 minutes to go to stumps, they had slumped to their third-worst Test defeat ever with an abject collapse against Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis.
Murali and Mendis, assisted by the ever-alert close-in cordon, did not loosen the vice-like grip they had had over the batsmen from the moment the ball was thrown to Mendis in the 10th over of India's first innings. With Mendis keeping the batsmen on a leash - his only two bad deliveries were the full tosses in his first two overs - and leaving the batsmen mesmerised, it was Murali who smiled his way to two five-fors and his 21st ten-wicket haul, which was also his fourth at the SSC.
There was no respite for the batsmen from either end as 19 wickets fell to the spin pair, who bowled 87.5 overs out of the 117.5 that India faced in the match. Murali was always likely to be a threat, but Mendis showed that his six-wicket haul against India in the Asia Cup final was not a one-off. His bowling action is almost as intriguing as the kind of deliveries he bowls: in his final stride, the index finger of his left hand points upwards, as if giving the batsman out. On the basis of this performance, that action is completely justified as one of the most anticipated debuts of recent times turned out to be the best for a Sri Lankan.
The Indian batsmen had struggled in the first innings, but the second was a greater embarrassment as Murali and Mendis nailed the batsmen with similar deliveries to the ones that had done them in in the first innings. With India trailing by 377 in the first innings, the follow-on decision was a no-brainer. The new-ball bowlers were fresh: they bowled only 16 overs in the innings, with Murali and Mendis bowling 49 successive overs in tandem. In the second innings, the fast bowlers had even less work to do: Jayawardene summoned his spinners after five overs and the move worked immediately. Murali accounted for Sehwag in a controversial manner, with what was the last ball before lunch. Sehwag shouldered arms to one that pitched barely on leg stump and straightened. Umpire Mark Benson turned down the appeal, but changed his mind after what seemed like errors from the Virtual Eye and third umpire Rudi Koertzen.
The next session sealed the game for Sri Lanka, as India lost five wickets. Perhaps hoping for a repeat of Kolkata 2001, India sent Laxman, the first-innings half-centurion, at No. 3. He hit three beautiful boundaries off the medium-pacers, before Mendis had his number. This time it was the quicker googly which baffled him. Laxman didn't have a clue about which way it would spin, and was trapped plumb in front.
Sachin Tendulkar was a tad unfortunate when he missed a sweep outside the leg stump, the ball catching the back of the bat and lobbing to leg slip. Tendulkar stood his ground, and it needed a review to send him on his way. Gambhir was drawn forward for the second time in two innings and beaten in flight before Prasanna Jayawardene completed an exceptional stumping.
Just before tea, Murali and Mendis worked their magic again in successive overs. Sourav Ganguly hadn't looked comfortable against Murali and edged to second slip. Mendis then made Rahul Dravid revisit the first-innings horror when a quick carrom-ball legbreak just missed off stump. The next ball, a googly, had Dravid playing in front of his pad. The inside edge lobbed to short leg and, though the appeal was turned down, the review came into play again, making Dravid the third Indian batsman to perish in that manner. The rest was just a formality, which Murali and Mendis finished in style, Mendis taking the last two in the same over.
The first half of the day was slightly better only than what transpired later. Muralitharan completed his 64th five-for with Harbhajan Singh's wicket, but it was Mendis who inflicted major damage. Even Laxman had trouble picking him, the carrom ball being his main tormentor. Laxman was let off in the second over of the day, as an outside edge off Mendis bisected the keeper and Mahela Jayawardene at slip. The other batsmen were even more clueless. Anil Kumble and Zaheer were trapped by Mendis' top spinners. Harbhajan played for a Murali doosra, but got an offspinner, which resulted in an easy bat-pad catch.
Despite having only the tailenders for company, Laxman didn't farm the strike, twice allowing his partners to take a single off the last ball of the over. Harbhajan fell in the over that followed, while Zaheer survived. When Ishant Sharma joined him, Laxman finally took more of the strike and continued to do so until he was fairly confident in Ishant's ability. Laxman had himself grown in confidence, reading Mendis better and employing the wristy flick. Despite the odd leading edge, he continued to attack. But Mendis, having bowled an unbroken 27-over spell, returned from Murali's end to get his man. He first beat him with a 95kph legbreak, angling in and then breaking it away, before squaring him up with a googly, ending his 158-minute stay at the crease. Dravid and Laxman foxed in each innings of his first Test - as dream debuts go, there can't be many better than this.
Through the first two-and-a-half days of the match, the pitch seemed a shirtfront and a draw seemed the most likely result, especially given the inclement weather at the start. The magic of two outstanding spinners meant the game didn't go into the fifth day. Sri Lanka last lost a Test at home in April 2006, against Pakistan in Kandy. With Murali and Mendis so frighteningly effective in tandem, it's hard to imagine an overseas team defeating this double threat any time soon.
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