January 5, 2002

Day of anti-climax after Muralitharan misses out on all ten

A day that started with anti-climax, when hometown hero Muttiah Muralitharan narrowly failed to become the third man in history to take ten wickets in an innings, ended with Sri Lanka in a now familiar position of dominance in this one-sided Test series.

With the Sri Lankan top order rallying around their captain Sanath Jayasuriya, who scored a brilliant hundred, the hosts quickly overhauled Zimbabwe's 236 first innings total to finish the day on 334 with an already useful lead of 98.

But, as well as Jayasuriya played for his 139, an innings that spanned eight minutes short of five hours, events on the field were dominated by Muralitharan's failure to capture the last wicket in the morning.

The off-spinner, hampered by torn ligaments in his ring finger dislocated the night before, would have surpassed fellow off-spinner Jim Laker's ten for 53 against Australians in 1956 if Russel Arnold had not fumbled a simple bat-pad catch off the first ball of the day. Then, fifth ball, Muralitharan spun an off-break sharply back into the pads of Travis Friend only to see umpire Venkatraghavan rule in the batsman's favour.

Next over, Vaas ran through the motions, bowling gentle medium pace at number 11 Henry Olonga. But the dreadlocked tailender couldn't resist a swipe the left-armers last ball and was caught behind by Kumar Sangakkara. There was a stifled appeal and a moment of silence - when the Sri Lankan players wondered whether they could just ignore the final wickets fall - before umpire Asoka de Silva was forced to raise his finger.

Nevertheless, it was a wonderful performance for the first innings of a Test match, when the pitch offered him turn but very little bounce. He finished with nine for 51, still the fifth best figures in 124 years of Test cricket, making him only the second man to take nine wickets in an innings twice - again pipped by Laker who completed the feat twice in a game.

Should he be able to bowl in the second innings, which he intends to do even if he is in severe pain, he has a great chance to become the first bowler to take ten ten-fors in Test cricket.

Sri Lanka's batsman then showed just how true this pitch was as they galloped past Zimbabwe's total in just two sessions with only Marvan Atapattu - ironically the man the selectors, three of whom have now resigned, wanted to rest - failing as he was trapped lbw for nine by Travis Friend (11 for one).

Jayasuriya and Sangakkara added 71 for the second wicket with the stylish Sangakkara, playing on his old school ground, leading the way with a flurry of elegant boundaries in a run a ball 42.

But Sri Lanka's 24-year-old number three missed out on a fifty in unfortunate circumstances as he hit his own wicket whilst trying to kick the ball away from his stumps after a missing an attempted pull off Friend (82 for two).

But there was no respite for the visitors during an entertaining afternoon as Jayasuriya started to assert himself and with Mahela Jayawardene ticking along serenely. Zimbabwe tried to stem the flow of runs with defensive field settings but their bowlers erred in their line and length too frequently and the boundaries flowed.

Zimbabwe also dropped two chances. Andy Flower failed to hold on to a difficult leg-side catch from Jayawardene despite a sprawling second grab and skipper Stuart Carlisle completely misjudged a simple catch at mid on when Jayasuriya had made just 60.

Jayawardene's miss didn't prove costly, as he was trapped lbw soon after reaching his 13th Test fifty (202 for three), but Jayasuriya's did, as the left-hander cruised towards his ninth Test ton with a typically authoritative clump over mid-wicket - one of 17 fours he hit in his 212-ball knock.

But just when he was looking like he was going to cut loose, as he smashed Olonga for a towering six over wide long on, he swept a delivery from Grant Flower straight into the hands of square leg (273 for four).

Then, Russel Arnold batted doggedly for nearly three hours for his 44, adding 61 runs with Hashan Tillakaratne, who once again looked in prime form, before the close of play.