Ajantha Mendis continues hosts' domination
Sri Lanka Board President's XI 514 for 9 decl (Tharanga 110, Kandamby 101, Samaraweera 101, Thirimanne 66) lead Indians 291 (Yuvraj 118, Gambhir 89, Mendis 6-67) by 223 runs
Yuvraj Singh made optimum use of the tour game to ensure his place at No. 6 in the Test line-up, scoring an entertaining and assured century, but could not save the Indians the embarrassment of not making the follow-on mark against the Board Presidents' XI. Ajantha Mendis gave the selectors enough reasons to pick him for the second Test, taking the wickets of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Gautam Gambhir among his six.
That the Indians could last only 64.2 overs will add more concern on a tour that has brought them much bad news. Two of their first-choice bowlers have gone back to India, one is down with fever, the rest of the bowlers struggled, and when their turn came to bat they could last just two sessions.
Twin strikes from Chanaka Welegedara and Mendis had left the Indians at a precarious 80 for 4, but Yuvraj took the initiative in attacking Mendis and added 143 with Gautam Gambhir. Gambhir got three lives, played well otherwise, but missed out on a century. Another collapse ensued, and Yuvraj fought cramps, shielded Ishant Sharma, but could not see the Indians through to the follow-on mark.
After Pragyan Ojha took two tail-end wickets to complete a potentially Test-spot-sealing five-for, Thilan Samaraweera declared the innings to give the Indians six overs to bat before lunch. Virender Sehwag and Gambhir entertained in that short spell. Sehwag hit the first ball of spin he faced for six over extra cover, in the last over before the break, from offspinner Sachitra Senanayake, bowling ahead of Mendis.
The first ball after the break, though, Sehwag played on from Welegedara, and in the same over Mendis misjudged a leading edge from Gambhir, who was 17 then. Rahul Dravid soon edged one to slip. Sachin Tendulkar beautifully punched the first ball he faced for four, but fell lbw in Mendis' first over. The carrom ball, though, seemed to be missing the off stump, and Tendulkar suggested as much as he walked off. VVS Laxman didn't look comfortable against Mendis, and duly edged a quick legbreak. At that point, the follow-on looked not only a possibility but the favoured outcome.
During the collapse, Gambhir faced a testing spell of swing from Welegedara and short-pitched stuff from Dilhara Fernando, who found his edge but saw Dinesh Chandimal drop him in the slips. Soon after Laxman's dismissal, Samaraweera dropped at short extra cover the easiest of chances that Gambhir presented, which would have made the score 80 for 5. Gambhir was 30 then, and in the same over cleared Samaraweera comfortably.
Mendis, bowling in a nice rhythm then, beat Yuvraj with a googly. That was the last instance in a long time that the bowlers would come close to a moral victory against Yuvraj. The most impressive aspect of the innings was how Yuvraj used his feet against the spinners, the breed of bowlers known to trouble him the most in Tests.
The next googly Mendis tried, he read early, stepped out of the crease, and sent out of the stadium. Gambhir followed lead and lofted Mendis over long-off. Soon Mendis was taken off, and it went smoothly for both the batsmen. Yuvraj was particularly harsh, hitting six sixes, over long-on, midwicket and square leg. When the straight field was set back, he used the sweep shot to good effect, finding boundaries. The punches and drives through covers were not to be missed. There was cheekiness involved too, when they ran a single even as Senanayake was appealing for lbw and the ball hadn't even gone a few feet.
When Yuvraj was 62 off 55, Fernando got one to straighten from round the stumps. That was only the second time Yuvraj was beaten. The batsmen went into tea having raised their fifties and having deflated the attack for the time being. After tea, though, Gambhir looked to dominate Mendis some more, and paid the price. He tried to loft the bowler straight went towards long-on, and Upul Tharanga took a good catch running back. Soon MS Dhoni got out softly, guiding an offbreak to leg gully, off the face of the bat.
Mendis then wrapped his grip around the long tail, beating Amit Mishra with a wrong'un. When Ishant Sharma came to bat at No. 9, Yuvraj shielded him from Mendis, hit another huge six, but with cramps hampering his foot movement, he missed an offbreak from Senanayake when looking to slog-sweep.
Mendis got through the next two without trouble, India ended 223 short, and Samaraweera went for pain rather than possible humiliation, choosing to bat again rather than trying to go for a win against the visitors. Even as half of the Indian players, who had been sent for net practice to another ground in the city, hurriedly made their way back, bad light ensured the Board Presidents' XI's innings wouldn't start.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo