Persevering India edge ahead
Sri Lanka 425 (Samaraweera 137, Sangakkara 75, Ojha 4-115, Ishant 3-72) and 45 for 2 (Sehwag 2-11) lead India 436 (Sehwag 109, Raina 62, Laxman 56, Randiv 4-80) by 34 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Fortunes ebbed and flowed on the third day with India sneaking ahead by the close. The hosts undermined a blistering knock by Virender Sehwag with early wickets before Suresh Raina and VVS Laxman launched a recovery. Their departure, in quick succession, saw spirited batting from India's lower order to scale Sri Lanka's first-innings total, and Sehwag's double-strike just before stumps set up a fascinating face-off over the next two days amid encouraging conditions for the bowlers.
The game was on even terms when Sri Lanka began their second innings but their attempts to set India a sizable target had to stand the test of a track offering some turn and extra bounce. The left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha was introduced as early as the seventh over and Tharanga Paranavitana and Tillakaratne Dilshan set about trying to unsettle him immediately, playing the pull, the sweep and even charging out. Paranavitana swung and missed and survived a close shave when he played one just wide of short leg.
MS Dhoni opted for the offspinner at the other end, and Sehwag made an immediate impact. He slipped in a quicker one on a length to which Paranavitana erred by playing back and edged to Dhoni. Dilshan was fortunate to survive an lbw shout off an arm ball by Ojha but was caught superbly the next over by M Vijay at forward short leg, as he inside-edged a turning delivery from Sehwag. The two wickets underscored the importance of India's lower-order resistance where the last three wickets accumulated 86 runs.
Abhimanyu Mithun has shone down the order in each of the three Tests, and Amit Mishra joined him in a stand that tilted the scales after Sri Lanka had clawed back with three quick wickets. The intention in the previous two games was to purely block but their approach this innings was infused with a bit of urgency. Mithun played some powerful drives while Mishra stepped out and even used the paddle to improvise. Lasith Malinga gave them a hard time with a barrage of short deliveries that struck their fingers, but they were determined enough to preserve their wickets, taking the bottom hand off and fending wide of the close-in fielder.
The foundation for the lead, however, was provided by a fighting stand between Raina and Laxman, who batted positively to narrow the deficit at a steady rate. The tempo of India's innings, though not as frenetic as when Sehwag was blazing away, was healthy enough to ensure their bowlers had a fair go at the hosts in the second innings.
Raina batted with determination and helped India rebuild - just as he had in friendlier conditions on his way to a debut century at the SSC. Though a touch vulnerable against Suraj Randiv, who got the ball to spit and troubled him with deceptive turn, Raina avoided getting bogged down, working the singles with Laxman who was a little more composed at the other end. Raina defended assuredly, met the length deliveries with a forward stride and improvised with minimal risk. He pulled, swept and drove Ajantha Mendis, and picked Dilshan for boundaries through the leg side. He looked far more at ease after lunch, slashing Malinga for consecutive boundaries, bringing up his fifty and charging out to Randiv to launch him over extra cover.
Laxman picked Malinga's deceptive slower ones early and dealt well with deliveries that were pitched short. He cut and pulled Randiv for boundaries early in his innings, punched Chanaka Welegedara through the covers and inflicted the same treatment on Malinga. Laxman was on the lookout for scoring opportunities, often opening the face to deliveries flung just outside off and reached his half-century, guiding Malinga past the keeper.
However, the pair were separated when Mendis attacked from round the wicket. He found plenty of turn with his legspin from that angle, getting the ball to grip. Laxman's dabs outside off produced a couple of edges, the second of which was snapped by Mahela Jayawardene. Raina was done in by the bounce of a carrom ball that he punched straight to short midwicket. Malinga soon snared MS Dhoni, who gloved an attempted pull before the tail stepped up.
A combination of some attacking bowling and reckless batting had given Sri Lanka a couple of early breakthroughs. India suffered a setback with the departure of Sachin Tendulkar in the first over of the day, and Sehwag's ill-conceived attempt to loft Randiv over cover - shortly after reaching his century - landed safely in the palms of Welegedara. Those two wickets had marked the first change of fortunes on an eventful day, but Sehwag ensured he compensated before stumps by turning the game India's way.
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo