Chaminda Vaas conjures up Houdini-like recovery
For the second time in the series Sri Lanka staged a Houdini-like recovery, as West Indies's top-order watched in horror as the middle and lower order frittered away their hard-won advantage during a hapless morning session on the second day of this final Janashakthi National Test in Colombo
Despite the heroics of Brian Lara, who scored 221, his third double century and the highest ever Test score by a touring batsman in Sri Lanka, the home side finished the day with a bounce in their step thanks mainly to a career best seven-wicket haul from pace bowler Chaminda Vaas.
West Indies started the day on 323 for three with Lara on 178 and captain Carl Hooper on 52. Both players had sagely warned last night that the job was far from over, but they could scarcely have imagined such a devastating collapse, in which their last seven wickets tumbled for 43 runs. The tourists, looking for 500 plus according to Lara last night, were bowled out for 390.
Then, in front of a cheerfully vocal Poya Day crowd, the Sri Lankan batsmen responded positively, with Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya scoring half-centuries, as the home team finished the day on 193 for three.
It was carbon copy flop to Galle, where they had ended the opening day of the series on 316 for three, which they extended to 423 for four, before losing their last six wickets for 25 runs. The collapse paved the way for a Sri Lankan victory and the home team realise they now have a similar opportunity here.
But the game is evenly balanced and the West Indies also know that early wickets tomorrow morning will secure them the initiative on a dry surface that looks set to deteriorate more markedly than a normal SSC pitch.
Sri Lanka's comeback was all the more remarkable for the fact that it was not instigated by Muttiah Muralitharan, who picked up one meager wicket in the innings. Instead, it was his erstwhile support bowler and fast bowling workhorse, Chaminda Vaas, who cut through the West Indian batting.
Bowling gun-barrel straight on a dry, flat pitch Vaas excelled with the new ball, which was taken in the third over of the morning.
Hooper was the first to go and probably the key dismissal, as he shuffled across his stumps and was trapped lbw for 56 in the fifth over of the innings. Marlon Samuels, who was lucky to survive his first over, fell in a similar manner for four, though he clearly begged to disagree with Sri Lankan umpire Asoka de Silva.
Lara had started a quiet morning with an efficient clip for four first ball, but then worked hard for his runs as the Sri Lankan new ball bowlers pounded the ball in halfway down the wicket. But eventually he leg glanced Nuwan Zoysa off his hips to reached his third double century and his first since the 213 he scored against Australia in 1998/99 at Kingston.
Lara's problem, though, was at the other end. With the lower order exposed he shifted gears, dancing down the track to loft Muralitharan for a rare six.
But at 11.50am Ridley Jacobs was deceived by a slower ball from Nuwan Zoysa and bowled. Zoysa was replaced by Vaas minutes later and Mervyn Dillon became the fourth batsmen to be trapped lbw.
At 12.20pm Lara's seven-and-a-half hour vigil ended as a cleverly disguised off-cutter slipped through the Trinidadian's defenses.
Just before lunch Dinanath Ramnarine was caught at slip off Muralitharan and in the first over after lunch Vaas picked up his seventh wicket as Pedro Collins offered a dolly catch to mid-off.
Sri Lanka's reply started badly as Marvan Atapattu pushed too eagerly at delivery from Pedro Collins and was athletically caught by Chris Gayle at third slip.
Jayasuriya and Sangakkara and then buckled down to score 99 for the second wicket. Sangakkara, who passed 1000 runs in Test cricket, was not wholly convincing but he played some stylish shots and left the ball well outside his off-stump.
He reached his sixth Test fifty with a flourishing square drive and followed it with a pull through mid-wicket, but then edged a good delivery from Dillon and was caught at first slip for 55.
Jayasuriya played with unusually caution and eventually reached his 19th Test fifty, in nine minutes short of three hours. However, having reached the landmark and become the third Sri Lankan batsmen to pass 4000 Test runs, he shifted up the gears and looked set for a century before being deceived by a slower delivery from Marlon Black.