Third Test

India v Sri Lanka, 2005-06

Ramakrishnan Kaushik

At Ahmedabad, December 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 2005. India won by 259 runs. Toss: India. Test debut: W. U. Tharanga.

India went into this match in some turmoil: a huge public outcry after the exclusion of Ganguly was followed by Dravid being hospitalised with gastroenteritis, ending a run of 93 consecutive Tests since his debut. But if the players were feeling the pressure, they hid it well, clinching the series with a comprehensive victory which hoisted India above England to second in the Test rankings behind Australia, their highest position.

Once again India had several heroes as they swept home. As in the previous Test, Sri Lanka had their moments - chiefly when they reduced India to 97 for five on the first day. But while the visitors could not sustain their intensity, India found a man for every crisis. In his first Test as captain, Sehwag marshalled his resources admirably. Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble, in his 100th Test, bowled persistently and took 17 wickets between them, but the pitch was no dust bowl. It firmed up once the initial moisture dried out and, if anything, batting became easier as the game progressed. The relatively slow track did not encourage strokemaking, but patience and application were rewarded.

Atapattu lost his third toss in a row but, for more than three hours, it looked a good one to lose. Malinga, playing in place of Vaas who was ill, took two quick wickets, before a sharp catch at short leg accounted for Tendulkar. But then Laxman took charge, helped by Dhoni and Pathan, and the end result was a competitive 398. Laxman's ninth Test century was not one of his typical innings: the conditions and the match situation demanded he keep his instincts in check, and he stayed in more than six and a half hours. Dhoni, in contrast, counter-attacked fiercely after Muralitharan picked up two wickets in three balls. Later, Pathan again showed off his immense natural talent. In the Second Test, as a stand-in opener, he had been given licence to have a dart; here, he batted with rare focus, sharing a stand of 125 with Laxman to put India firmly in charge. Pathan again fell with a century in sight, but could reflect on a job well done.

Sri Lanka were never in the game after collapsing again after tea on the second day, and slipping to a first-innings deficit of 192. Only Dilshan held firm, with a fluent 65, as Harbhajan put some indifferent form behind him to take seven wickets. Then it was India's turn to collapse against the spinners before Yuvraj Singh showed why he had been preferred to Ganguly, with a power-packed half-century. The tail wagged merrily, and Sehwag declared on the fourth morning with a lead of 508.

At the last gasp, Sri Lanka fought back. But the size of the task and the relentlessness of the Indian spinners - Kumble took five more wickets, to lift his overall tally to 485 - combined to make their task impossible.

Man of the Match: Harbhajan Singh.

Man of the Series: A. Kumble.

© John Wisden & Co.