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March 23, 2008
Sri Lanka's quest for a first Test win in the Caribbean took shape in a manner they've mastered back on home soil: put up the runs, session by session, and hand it over to two experienced bowlers. A distinctly subcontinental surface at the Providence Stadium allowed Mahela Jayawardene his first hundred against West Indies and Chaminda Vaas a second fifty in as many innings before Sri Lanka declared on 476 for 8. The 16 overs left in the day were enough for Vaas to remove his bunny Chris Gayle for his fifth duck against this opposition and brought the shutters down on a lamentable day for the hosts, who let five chances go down in the field.
From the time he came to the middle it was evident Jayawardene wanted to play an innings for the long haul. It was a disciplined hundred, shorn of risks and flashy shots, and efficiently extended Sri Lanka's dominance. With the track being so sluggish it was a bit hard to force the ball away - Jerome Taylor and Daren Powell bowled very well in the first session - and Jayawardene relied on singles and the odd double as they came.
There weren't too many runs scored in the first two hours but, importantly for Sri Lanka, Jayawardene played himself in. Taylor was the only bowler to really offer any threat, removing Tillakaratne Dilshan early, but West Indies were let down by ordinary fielding.
Some edges went agonisingly close to being caught, some should have been caught, and some shots were just superbly timed. Jayawardene was also the beneficiary of a life, when on 39 he cut hard and Gayle watched the thick edge fly to his right at slip. Sulieman Benn was denied a maiden Test wicket on that occasion but he was also to blame soon after as he misjudged a chance from Prasanna Jayawardene, who mistimed a pull off Powell to midwicket.
One sweetly-timed straight drive was about as stylish as Mahela Jayawardene got. Otherwise it was soft-handed dabs and tucks to square leg or midwicket. His half-century under his belt, he added 53 with Prasanna Jayawardene and 126 with Vaas after Powell struck with the second new ball just after lunch.
There were no extravagant shots, except for one classical flick across the line off Taylor, as Jayawardene worked his way through the 80s and 90s. He had been run out on 99 against the same opposition in Galle in 2001but this time he scampered down the pitch to reach his 22nd Test hundred before tea. It came off 189 deliveries, seven more than Malinda Warnapura's had taken, and was no less significant. Sri Lanka clearly wanted to bat just once and Jayawardene did his best to ensure that by dropping anchor.
He was given another life on 124 by Dwayne Bravo at short fine leg in the 152nd over but an innings of great discipline and control ended with a shot of extravagance and an error by the umpire Billy Bowden. Going for another reverse-sweep against Gayle, Jayawardene was adjudged lbw although replays showed the ball struck glove first.
Vaas, the beneficiary of two early lives in the slips, made West Indies pay with a dogged effort that helped his captain past three figures and his team past 400. Like the other left-handers before him Vaas had few problems as he swept and cut his way past fifty for the 14th time in Tests. His unbeaten 54 took his batting average in the last 12 months to 78.75. Gayle got a second wicket but Rangana Herath used his first chance at the crease in more than two years to hit some quick runs before the declaration.
Vaas showed no signs of weariness after 162 minutes of batting and struck quickly to get Gayle lbw. Gayle's record of just 112 runs in nine Test innings against Sri Lanka stayed where it was and it was his fifth duck against them; Vaas has dismissed him seven times in those ten innings. Vaas would have been encouraged by the bit of reverse-swing on view while batting and used it craftily.
Ramnaresh Sarwan's fidgety 21 - against the lyrical tunes of a number of Bob Marley anthems across the PA system - denied Sri Lanka further inroads but, like Jayawardene before him, he'll need to stick around for a long time if West Indies are to save this Test.
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