Middle order props up Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka 293 for 4 (Sangakkara 75, Samaraweera 65*, Jayawardene 56) v India
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Sri Lanka batted determinedly to gain control of the deciding Test in conditions that promised more parity between bat and ball after the run-fest in the previous game at the SSC. In a much improved bowling performance, the Indian seamers got decent movement off the deck and Pragyan Ojha extracted both turn and bounce to often unsettle the Sri Lankan batsmen. But Thilan Samaraweera, backed up by Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, kept the hosts on track in their attempt to post an intimidating score on a surface that looks good to produce an outright result.
India lost the toss for the third straight time in the series, but the signs that events would transpire more favourably for them were evident early in the innings. Both Ishant Sharma and Abhimanyu Mithun derived movement off the deck, beating the bat by consistently bowling at a length and drawing the batsmen forward. The visitors were deprived of their most experienced bowler, Harbhajan Singh, but Ojha troubled the batsmen by varying his lengths, getting the ball to grip and surprising the batsmen with disruptive turn. Mishra was less effective, his variations in flight and pace and relatively lesser spin failing to measure up to what his partner managed. He doled out full tosses, bowled six no-balls and was warned twice by the umpires for stepping on the danger area.
Barring opener Tharanga Paranavitana, who edged Ishant early in the innings, the Sri Lankan batsmen fought hard to combat a revived bowling attack. Tillakaratne Dilshan overcame his initial rustiness against Ishant to adopt a more restrained approach, content in leaving the tricky deliveries outside off and only latching on when the ball was pitched up or hurled too wide. Kumar Sangakkara was aggressive against the spinners, stepping out to launch them over long-on and open up spaces to pinch the singles. Samaraweera was equally adept with his footwork, seizing the lengths to adapt accordingly while Jayawardene, during his otherwise calm vigil, looked the most vulnerable against the turning ball.
The batsmen kept Sri Lanka ahead with a succession of steady partnerships. Dilshan drove Ishant for a couple of boundaries through extra cover amid the spate of singles and twos run through reasonably spread-out fields that included a deep point and a deep square leg. Sangakkara, after his initial assault against Mishra, was troubled by Mithun. He played across the line to edge one short of Rahul Dravid, and was dropped by Raina at third slip when Mithun attacked from round the wicket. He overcame those lapses early enough, driving Mithun imperiously for two fours, including one on a bent knee, his trademark shot.
Both, however, fell when they were well-set. Dilshan had squandered two previous attempts to reach three-figures in easier conditions, and his effort today was cut short when he was superbly run out by M Vijay at the stroke of lunch. Standing at silly point, Vijay reacted quickly to return an accurate throw to Dhoni to catch Dilshan short of his crease. Sangakkara, after surviving a close lbw shout, holed out against Ojha, missing a third straight ton.
The batsman most comfortable in such conditions was Samaraweera. He defended solidly, played the ball late and progressed smoothly in a chanceless knock, waltzing down the track against Mishra to pick four boundaries and showing he had ample time to play his shots, even late-cutting Ishant past gully. Jayawardene, who had negotiated the seamers with ease during his stand with Sangakkara, survived a couple of close shaves against Ojha as the ball spat sharply while turning away to beat the outside edge on three occasions. He was a touch unfortunate to be given out lbw while playing forward to Ojha - replays suggested height was a problem - but not before he had helped build two fifty-plus stands that took Sri Lanka to a position of strength.
Samaraweera and Angelo Mathews saw off the new ball with little difficulty before bad light prompted an early finish, the pressure being on India to strike early and contain the damage on the second day.
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo