India ahead as run-fest continues
Normal service resumed on the fourth day with bat dominating ball on a placid pitch, after the Sri Lankan spinners had injected life into the Test on the third. India ensured a draw was inevitable, as they overhauled Sri Lanka's first-innings score, with Sachin Tendulkar and Suresh Raina adding to an exhaustive list of milestones achieved in this game. Tendulkar eased to his fifth double-century while Raina became the first Indian batsman since Virender Sehwag in 2001 to score a Test century on debut.
As Tendulkar and Raina took India past the follow-on target, the proceedings evoked memories of the dull draws these two teams played out during the 1990s. With spread-out fields, a slow pitch and conditions discriminating against the bowlers, Sri Lanka's triple strike on the third morning proved an aberration.
That was evident in the positive approach adopted by Tendulkar and Raina at the outset on the fourth day. Tendulkar, who had been more sparing in his treatment of fuller deliveries amid pressure on day three, resumed his innings with a cover drive off Suraj Randiv. The seamers, while troubling Tendulkar occasionally with well-directed bouncers, were dealt with more harshly. Dammika Prasad, after striking Tendulkar on the helmet, was cracked for three fours through point; Dilhara Fernando, who induced Tendulkar to play an ill-executed upper cut - he had Tendulkar dropped off the same shot the previous day - was at the receiving end of his trademark straight drive.
Tendulkar shrugged off a couple of close shaves against Randiv - he padded up to deliveries that straightened but was saved by the bounce - by sweeping effectively against the turn and brought up his double with a paddle down to fine leg.
Raina showed few signs of nerves in his maiden Test appearance, looking confident early in his innings. He didn't hesitate to step out against the spinners on the third day and began in a similar vein on the fourth, lofting Randiv over long-off. Unlike Tendulkar, Raina played the pitched-up deliveries with more comfort throughout his knock. He played his favourite slog-sweep to dispatch Randiv over midwicket, and brought up his ton with a drive through mid off. The celebration began the moment he connected; he clenched his fists, ran to the other end and soaked in the applause for an achievement that opened up India's options in their Test middle order. He was beaten by a Mendis legbreak shortly after lunch and spooned an easy catch to short midwicket but only after India had reached safety.
The batsmen that followed had plenty of time to adjust to variations in pace as well as frequent changes in length, and runs flowed at a healthy pace. This was on display in the manner that MS Dhoni settled in, stepping out to Mendis on just his fifth ball and pulling Prasad for consecutive boundaries. The spinners were heaved and slogged and Dhoni notched up another fifty.
Tillakaratne Dilshan salvaged some pride with a couple of quick wickets. Tendulkar was caught off an inside edge onto the pads, and Harbhajan Singh gifted a catch to midwicket. The resistance, however, continued with Dhoni and Abhimanyu Mithun occupying the crease for 21.4 overs before Dilshan struck again to snare the Indian captain.
Kumar Sangakkara kept three close-in catchers for much of the day, hoping the extra bounce would yield something. The seamers had a slip against Tendulkar, an additional leg slip for Raina, as well as a silly point for Dhoni when he was new to the crease. Perhaps Mendis could have come on much earlier than at the stroke of lunch. But their hopes were thwarted by a determined effort from Tendulkar, Raina and Dhoni, who have set up a third Test finale at the P Sara Stadium.
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo