Vaas puts Sri Lanka in front
On a day dominated by the bowlers, West Indies had the upper hand for much of the first two sessions, but the Sri Lankans, spearheaded by the irrepressible Chaminda Vaas, fought back magnificently after tea to edge ahead after the second day at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo. Restricted to just 285 in their first innings, thanks to Sri Lanka's effort with the second new ball, the West Indian fast bowlers hit back with a vengeance, dismissing the home team for just 227. But the onerous task of having to bat again under fading light against a marauding Vaas proved too much for West Indies' inexperienced batsmen, and they struggled to 17 for 3, only 75 in front, before bad light mercifully ended their misery on a day in which as many as 17 wickets fell.
The dominant player for Sri Lanka throughout the day was Vaas. He began West Indies' first-innings slide early in the morning, propped up the Sri Lankan innings with an invaluable 49 - in the process ensuring that Sri Lanka's last three wickets added 114 - and then returned to strike twice late in the evening to reduce West Indies to a shambles. In between, though, the West Indians had much the better of the exchanges.
With so many of their top batsmen missing, bowling was always West Indies' stronger suit in this game, and so it proved when Shivnarine Chanderpaul led his team out in the field about 40 minutes into the morning session. As had happened earlier this year in Guyana, when a depleted West Indian side dominated the South Africans thoroughly, the Sri Lankans quickly found that the match wasn't quite the walk in the park many had expected it to be. All the Sri Lankan batsmen struggled to cope with the pace, bounce and movement extracted by the West Indian pace trio, especially Jermaine Lawson, who consistently clocked around 148kmph in his first spell.
The slide started early, when Marvan Atapattu jammed at a well-directed yorker from Powell, but only managed to inside-edge the ball onto leg stump. Sanath Jayasuriya popped a catch to short leg, Mahela Jayawardene was all at sea before edging one to the slips, while Kumar Sangakkara, after mounting a brief counterattack, became Denesh Ramdin's first victim (47 for 4).
A 44-run stand between Tillakaratne Dilshan and Thilan Samaraweera hinted at a fightback, but Banks struck for a second time, and when Samaraweera and Gayan Wijekoon fell to rank irresponsible shots, they had slid to 113 for 7, and West Indies' total of 285 seemed a monumental one.
Vaas then got to work, goading the lower order to stay with him and add vital runs. He started circumspectly, allowing Rangana Herath to do the bulk of the scoring in a 36-run eighth-wicket stand. When Herath was dismissed, West Indies could have been forgiven for thinking the end was near. Vaas had other ideas. With Muralitharan, he set about bringing a semblance of respectability to the total. Muralitharan started his innings in his usual carefree manner, but was soon playing some studied defensive strokes as Vaas coaxed runs out of him. Vaas himself played a splendidly calculated innings, striking the big hits when the fielders were in, and then settling for the ones and twos when the field was spread out. The 66-run stand reduced the deficit significantly, and it ensured that the Sri Lankans were in high spirits when they took the field.
West Indies, having lost the initiative somewhat, threw it away completely in the last 30 minutes as Xavier Marshall, completely inept against the swinging ball, and Morton, both fell to Vaas's inswingers. And when Sylvester Joseph was caught at silly point off Muralitharan, West Indies' day had turned from promising to pear-shaped.
Earlier, Vaas sparked West Indies' collapse in the morning too, trapping Shivnarine Chanderpaul lbw before he could add to his overnight 69. Removing the tail was a mere formality for Vaas and Lasith Malinga, who finished with well-deserved figures of 4 for 71. At that point, the stage was set for a Sri Lankan run-fest. As it transpired, a further 13 wickets fell before the day was done.
West Indies 1st innings
Shivnarine Chanderpaul lbw b Vaas 69 (273 for 7)
Deceived by one which nipped back a shade and hit his back pad
Daren Powell c Jayawardene b Malinga 3 (276 for 8)
Edged an outswinger to third slip
Omari Banks b Malinga 32 (281 for 9)
Defeated by a full delivery which swung late and took off stump
Tino Best b Vaas 4 (285 all out)
Beaten comprehensively by an inswinging yorker
Sri Lanka 1st innings
Marvan Atapattu b Powell 1 (4 for 1)
Jammed down on a yorker, but got an inside edge on to leg bail
Sanath Jayasuriya c Smith b Lawson 3 (7 for 2)
Got an inside edge onto pad, and the ball looped to short leg
Mahela Jayawardene c Morton b Powell 3 (32 for 3)
Drove at a full delivery outside off and edged to second slip
Kumar Sangakkara c Ramdin b Banks 34 (47 for 4)
Got a thin edge while attempting a drive, giving Ramdin his first Test victim
Tillakaratne Dilshan c Smith b Banks 32 (91 for 5)
Prodded forward and offered a bat-pad catch to short leg
Thilan Samaraweera c&b Lawson 11 (93 for 6)
Attempted to pull one from outside off, and top-edged a catch to the bowler
Gayan Wijekoon c Joseph b Best 12 (113 for 7)
Slashed a drive off a wide ball and edged to third slip
Rangana Herath c Ramdin b Best 24 (149 for 8)
Edged a drive, and Ramdin brought off a spectacular catch diving in front of first slip
Chaminda Vaas b Smith 49 (215 for 9)
Got an inside edge while trying to drive
Muttiah Muralitharan b Lawson 36 (227 all out)
Done in by a yorker
West Indies 2nds innings
Xavier Marshall lbw b Vaas 2 (3 for 1)
Trapped in front by one which pitched on off and swung in
Runako Morton lbw b Vaas 0 (3 for 2)
Another inswinging delivery, which had the batsman plumb in front
Sylvester Joseph c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 2 (15 for 3)
Offered a straightforward bat-pad chance to silly point
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo