Sri Lanka v India, 1st Test, Galle, 3rd day July 20, 2010

Sri Lanka's bowlers liven up Test

The Sri Lankan bowling unit showed in one session that it is better equipped in these conditions than its opposition

Sri Lanka have done their best to keep this match, which has lost close to 114 overs of play in three days, alive. Even when India were threatening to come back to level terms in the first session, the hosts maintained a run-rate of four. Rangana Herath and Lasith Malinga provided some unexpected entertainment with the bat and, more importantly, ruled out India's victory. Then they made an aggressive declaration, leaving Herath unbeaten 20 short of a maiden Test century. It was later that they did the most telling damage.

The Sri Lankan bowling unit showed in one session that it is better equipped in these conditions than its opposition. It was a gripping session of play post tea, also facilitated by a poor attempt at a second run by Rahul Dravid.

Lasith Malinga came roaring back into Test cricket, attacking the stumps, getting swing, bowling full, removing Gautam Gambhir with the second ball of the innings and obsessively chasing the toes and ribs of Virender Sehwag. Muttiah Muralitharan, who would have found it tough to not get emotional with the grand reception he got when he walked on to the field, put behind him the lean run of form and performed like a champion. If there was any fear that his farewell Test might be a distraction, it was squashed when he got Sachin Tendulkar's wicket.

The final 42 minutes of the day, after Dravid and Tendulkar were dismissed within 33 runs of each other, and India were still 320 short of saving the follow-on, brought drama with almost every delivery. Only 8.4 overs were bowled, but Malinga's long run-up was full of promise.

Virender Sehwag, already 67 off 73 including a majestic six off Murali, was made to dig out yorkers just to save his toes, forget his wicket. He was made to get the bat up in time to protect his ribs, but also keep the ball down, lest it flew to the accurately placed leg gully or short leg. Even when he managed to expertly bisect the keeper and the leg gully, he got just the single to the fine leg placed for the top edge. The one yorker Malinga missed, bowling a low full toss, Sehwag crashed it through the covers.

Against Murali he fared better, reading the variations well, despite claiming to the contrary in his column. He even cut from in front of the stumps. In perhaps the most watchful 42 minutes of his batting since Adelaide, Sehwag scored 18 runs off 25 balls, at a mere mortal's pace.

Murali troubled VVS Laxman much more, who didn't read the doosra at all. On one occasion Laxman left alone one that pitched within the stumps, expecting it to turn down leg, and then saw it bounce over his off and middle stump. Another doosra he played at, and was beaten by what was almost a legbreak. He was lucky it missed the off stump. Bowling with four men around the bat, he kept pitching it on around the same spot, turning it either way.

Just as the clock approached the scheduled close of play at 5.45 pm, the sun peeped out of the clouds and shone as brightly as it had through the last week to heighten the drama. The play went deep into the evening, Yuvraj Singh must have waited anxiously, the Sri Lankans tried their darnedest to pick one more wicket before stumps, but India just about hung on. The series was alive, there was tension around. It can do with more of it.

Rangana Herath later said Sri Lanka can force a result even if India avoid a follow-on. "They [Sehwag and Laxman] batted very well," he said. "But at the same time, the bowlers were bowling really well, so if either of them had had done one mistake, it would have cost them their wicket. We expect to do the same thing tomorrow." Amen to that.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo