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March 24, 2008
Sri Lanka's two leading bowlers weren't at their menacing on day three best but backed up by a large total, they combined efficiently to leave West Indies 269 for 9 and needing eight runs to avoid the follow-on. Their backs against the wall, West Indies struggled on a batsman-friendly surface with an energetic 80 from Ramnaresh Sarwan the mainstay of their reply, surrounded by a series of decent starts that were wasted. Sarwan's dismissal handed Sri Lanka the momentum that almost drifted away during the second session and though the last-wicket pair held out for another morning, Sri Lanka remained on top.
The day began with Devon Smith and Marlon Samuels playing loose shots against Thilan Thushara. The nature of the track required a patient innings and that's precisely how he played. Sarwan scored heavily on the domestic circuit leading into this Test and a busy approach at the crease allowed him to pick up runs on either side of the square.
This came off well against Muttiah Muralitharan, whom Sarwan paddled and cut with fluency on a pitch akin to what would have been served up in Sri Lanka. His feet moved well against Murali - adeptly smothering the spin - and even with three or four fielders around the bat, Sarwan swept the ball into the gaps. His 27th fifty came up with one such shot. Sarwan averaged over 50 when West Indies toured Sri Lanka last and he was instrumental in a series win at home in 2003. His first international innings in ten months was a class act. Unfortunately for West Indies their middle order didn't have such tenacity.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul proved an immovable object in England last summer and scored two half-centuries in his last Test but fell at 99 for 4 just when he appeared to have set up shop. Looking to work Murali to the onside in the 41st over he failed to get close enough to the ball and drove straight to short cover.
Dwayne Bravo was dropped by Mahela Jayawardene at slip on the stroke of lunch - he misread an excellent doosra and the fielder spilled a sitter - but Murali had his man on the resumption. Stuck deep in his crease and trying to turn a quicker one fine Bravo was a dead duck in front of middle and leg.
Murali immediately crowded Ryan Hinds, who began with a runner owing to a hamstring pull, with five men around the bat. It was his first time facing Murali - his last Test was in 2005 - and, despite a limited repertoire, Hinds was unruffled during his laborious 32.
A watchful sixth-wicket partnership of 53 between Sarwan and Hinds had begun to work over the damage of four wickets but the crafty Chaminda Vaas struck a half hour before tea to wrest back the initiative. It took Vaas five overs to tempt Sarwan into an injudicious shot and when he finally did, Prasanna Jayawardene - standing up to the stumps - made no mistake with an excellent one-handed take. Muralitharan broke through immediately after tea as Hinds feathered a thin edge through to the wicketkeeper. Keeping to Muralitharan appeared so smooth thanks to Jayawardene's deft glovework and his fourth catch was well appreciated by his team-mates.
At this stage West Indies needed 84 to avoid the follow-on. Mahela Jayawardene delayed the new ball to give Muralitharan a crack at the lower order but it didn't work. Denesh Ramdin and the debutant Sulieman Benn got the measure of the slow bowlers, adding 43 frustrating runs, before the change of ball did the trick. It took just one delivery from Vaas to dismiss Ramdin, who couldn't resist chasing a wide one. Like Hinds, Ramdin had made himself a start but failed to press on; it was the story of West Indies' day.
Benn, a useful lower-order batsman for Barbados, struck the first six of the match and muscled a couple fours during an enterprising 28. Some confusion with Jerome Taylor saw him run out but a good last-wicket stand of 17 in nine overs denied Sri Lanka any further success. The follow-on is within striking distance but salvaging this Test remains another matter.