Playing out of character
Vaas's bowling has been average all series and another wicketless outing on day one left him needing to do something to justify his place in the side. It came with the bat. India could hardly contain themselves when Michael Vandort failed again, falling lbw to Zaheer Khan early in the day, but Vaas offered a remedy to guide Sri Lanka through a tricky morning passage. He utilised his opportunity to bat at No. 3 admirably and with a calm demonstration that kept India at bay.
That he did it with the bat is not surprising - he has a Test hundred and 13 fifties - but the timing could not have been better. He left the right balls, with bat watchfully behind pad -unlike some of India's batsmen, who stuck their bats outside the off stump in the manner of tailenders - and didn't hesitate to put away the bad balls. When India's fast bowlers pitched the ball up, Vaas left the deliveries alone; when they sent it down too full, he drove with panache. Ishant Sharma tried to bounce him and was pulled for two boundaries. Harbhajan Singh, who bowled very well in Galle, was guilty of giving away too many freebies here. Vaas punished his full tosses and cut his short deliveries. But Vaas had his luck too, when a soft-handed edge flew between the slips and gully and when Sachin Tendulkar unsuccessfully lunged at an inside edge at backward square leg.
He was cut two runs short of becoming the seventh player to reach 3000 runs and 300 wickets when he drove Harbhajan straight to cover, but his 47 was more than what VVS Laxman, Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid aggregated in the first innings. Perhaps more important than his runs, though, was Vaas' contribution to the man at the other end.
After big hundreds against Bangladesh, Australia and England last year and three hundreds in the Asia Cup, Sangakkara has been rather quiet by his own standards this series; his scores before this innings were 12, 68 and 1. At the SSC he pushed at a Zaheer Khan legcutter and was neatly held at first slip. In the first innings in Galle he threatened to run away with a big score but followed fellow half-centurion Malinda Warnapura with a poor shot against Harbhajan Singh. In the second he jabbed at one from Zaheer and gave VVS Laxman his 102nd Test catch.
Today that indecision threatened to do him in again, as an uppish steer over gully indicated. His initial approach was to attack, highlighted by a stunning pull and a bended-knee slap through cover, but after he was dropped on 34, the tempo of his innings changed.
Harbhajan brought India back into the game in a spell in which two wickets fell for four runs, including Mahela Jayawardene, out lbw trying to sweep. In response, perhaps determined to contribute, Sangakkara curbed his natural inclination to attack. He took the safe option of playing down the ground, his feet moving well to pace and spin. He refused to give in to temptation and waited for the short stuff, which he cut past flat-footed fielders. Anything on leg was wrested away for singles and the occasional hustled double. He also tried hard to resist the sweep, a shot that has consumed a few batsmen this series. Harbhajan tried to bait him with an outside-off line in the final two sessions of the day but Sangakkara patiently left each one alone, waiting for deliveries he could put away. Shot for shot, single by single, Sangakkara worked his way into form.
|Determined to contribute, Sangakkara curbed his natural inclination to attack. He took the safe option of playing down the ground, his feet moving well to pace and spin. He refused to give in to temptation, instead making himself wait for the short stuff, which he cut past flat-footed fielders. Anything on leg stump was wrested away for singles and the occasional hustled double. He also tried hard to resist the sweep, a shot which has consumed a few batsmen this series|
Sangakkara emerged unscathed from the edgy 80s, where repeated attempts to walk out to Kumble resulted in furtive glances as the ball skimmed off the bat or pad. He inside-edged Zaheer for a single in the next over but followed it up with a feisty cut to move to 99, the first boundary he had hit for 16.2 overs. Next ball, a scampered single towards cover-point brought up his 17th hundred and Sangakkara's celebration was restricted to a weary raise of the arms and a pump of the fists with Tillakarante Dilshan.
Zaheer was rewarded for a good late afternoon spell when he picked up a dour Thilan Samaraweera, but there was little support from the other end. He kept up his intensity after Ishant hobbled off with an injured ankle but could not dislodge Sangakkara who, by stumps, had faced 226 balls for his unbeaten 107.
It wasn't a pretty innings but came at a time when Sri Lanka were desperate for runs on a flat surface. The pressure may have got to someone without Sangakkara's tremendous determination. He spoke recently of the need to get outside one's comfort zone. Today he was playing at home, at a ground where he averaged around 90 before this innings, but he was far from comfortable. It was a tribute to his will to succeed for the greater cause.
"Batting with the tail is an important aspect of scoring big," Sangakkara had said earlier. He will have do that tomorrow, for Kumble struck in the fading moments of the day to remove Dilshan.
Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo