Laxman's century helps India draw series
India 436 (Sehwag 109, Raina 62, Randiv 4-80) and 258 for 5 (Laxman 103*, Tendulkar 54, Randiv 5-82) beat Sri Lanka 425 (Samaraweera 137*, Sangakkara 75, Ojha 4-115) and 267 (Samaraweera 83, Mendis 78) by five wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
India emerged victorious to level the series on a gripping final day at the P Sara Oval. VVS Laxman battled the pressure as well as an injured back in a tense chase and, with support from Sachin Tendulkar and Suresh Raina, countered the probing Suraj Randiv to reach his 16th century and seal a memorable win - India's fourth-highest successful chase in Tests.
India needed a recovery each time Laxman stepped out to bat this series, and he delivered once again: his most valuable innings coming in a situation that was the most challenging. The nerves of a tough chase were more evident in his partners, who offered chances and survived moments of edginess, as opposed to Laxman, whose solidity guided India home.
Laxman seemed to have more time than the rest to play his shots, and he picked gaps in the spread-out fields with comfort during a constant search for singles and twos. The wrist worked its charm early in his innings with a couple of delightful drives off Ajantha Mendis on either side of the pitch, and he latched on anything short, pulling Lasith Malinga for two boundaries behind square. Randiv's extra bounce was neutralised with a quick adaptation to varying lengths and the use of soft hands. Mendis' googlies were read early, and Malinga's slightly wayward line was dominated with flicks, glances and pulls, along with a safe negotiation of his intermittent yorkers.
Laxman suffered back spasms shortly before he lost Tendulkar, and relied on Virender Sehwag as runner. As India approached the target, Laxman moved towards his century with sublime timing, easing the spinners through covers, and brought up the landmark with a tickle to fine leg.
Randiv was the most threatening of Sri Lanka's bowlers and assumed the role of lead spinner in just his second Test. He delivered the ball quick from a high angle and was potent on a track generating bounce. Randiv's three wickets on the fourth day had put Sri Lanka ahead and they would have been on top had an initially patchy Tendulkar not been dropped at forward short leg. He attacked from round the wicket, targeted the rough and got the ball to spit from a middle-and-off line. India's approach throughout the day had been positive and Tendulkar's hunt for runs, though reflecting his determination to keep India on track, kept Randiv interested. Tendulkar closed the face often, used the paddle, made room to cut Randiv from the stumps and even stepped out of his crease. He inside-edged Randiv to one that spun in but Tillakaratne Dilshan failed to hold on to a straightforward chance, a moment Tendulkar shrugged off with a lovely off-drive next ball.
The feature of the Tendulkar-Laxman partnership was the ease with which they took singles, 48 of them in a 109-run stand. The fielders at mid-on and mid-off were placed deep enough for the batsmen to steal a run, and Kumar Sangakkara also had a deep point, who was kept busy. The steady flow of fours tempered Sri Lanka's plan of attack, and the vacant areas were exploited through a series of nudges, cuts and dabs. One such attempt, however, brought about Tendulkar's downfall as he gloved a sweep to the wicketkeeper to give Randiv his maiden five-for. But a counter-attack by Raina in a stand that dealt mainly in boundaries crushed Sri Lanka's hopes.
Raina's previous two Test innings had an assuredness unusual for a debutant but he batted more like one at the start of his knock today. Raina tried to attack from the outset, an approach that could have triggered another twist to a topsy-turvy Test. He edged a wide delivery from Malinga that scraped the hands of slip and charged down the track the next ball to swing and miss. Those lapses prompted more caution and he opted for aggression only when the field came in. Raina launched the spinners twice over mid-on, smashed Mendis down the ground and ended the game before the tea break by dispatching Chanaka Welegedara into the stands at midwicket.
Laxman's performances in both innings were crucial but the game was set up in two decisive phases by Sehwag. His blistering century set a tempo to the Indian first innings that enabled them to scale down a formidable Sri Lankan total in quick time. And his dismissals of the Sri Lankan openers, Dilshan and Tharanga Paranavitana, on the third day deprived the hosts of the strong start they needed to post an intimidating target. All this on a competitive pitch, which gave India's bowlers enough assistance to grab 20 wickets despite the absence of their most experienced bowler and the unavailability of a first-choice seam attack.
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo