This was not a day for the thrill seeking cricket supporter, but for the die hard Sri Lanka fan, as their spinners and fielders painstakingly winkled out the Indian top order to leave them on the verge of an innings victory and their first series win for 16-months at the end of day four.

India's batsmen, facing an enormous 377-run deficit when the they strapped on their pads on Friday evening, fought back bravely in the morning and afternoon, as Muralitharan bowled over after over to frequent shrieks of "howzat" and collective sighs of "aiyyo" from a vocal small crowd.

The pitch was so placid, however, that even Muralitharan's potency was diminished and a previously implausible draw actually looked increasingly possible, before two senseless run outs left India on 217 for six at the close, still 159 runs in arrears, with only one frontline batsman remaining.

Muralitharan had eventually dismissed both openers after a 107 opening stand, but star batsmen Rahul Dravid (36) and Sourav Ganguly (30) looked comfortable with the score on 186 for two when disaster struck. Dravid shuffled down the pitch and drove straight to a deep mid-on. He immediately set off for a single, but Marvan Atapattu quickly swooped on the ball and in one motion threw down the stumps. Television umpire Tyronne Wijewardene was referred to, and he found that a disconsolate Dravid was millimeters short.

Mohammad Kaif (5) was run out 30 minutes later. Ganguly worked a delivery from off spinner Thilan Samaraweera off his pads and set off for a quick single. Wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara, though, flashed out from behind the stumps to collect the ball and Ganguly sensed the danger too late. Kaif was left stranded halfway down the wicket without sufficient time to regain his ground.

India has slipped to 196 for four and Sri Lanka's fielders perked up, aware that the time had come for the kill.

Six overs later Ganguly edged an off break to slip to give an elated Samaraweera his first Test wicket and Sairaj Bahutule lasted just two balls before he was bowled off his arm, as he tried to pad away a delivery from Sanath Jayasuriya. India had lost four wickets for 25 runs and their fate looked sealed.

Hemang Badani (8*) and Sameer Dighe (4*) survived the remaining 27 minutes to the close but, barring the unexpected arrival of the north east monsoon this evening, India will be defeated and lose their first Test series against Sri Lanka for 16 years.

Earlier in the day India had resumed on 28-0. Openers Shiv Sunder Das (68) and Sadagoppan Ramesh (55) had batted solidly, quickly seeing off an opening burst from the pace bowlers. Muralitharan was pulled into the attack in the ninth over of the day, but Das responded with a flurry of boundaries.

The pint-sized opener cracked two straight boundaries in his first over and then cut him for another four in his next over. Fortunate to have survived when he swept onto his pads and was caught at midwicket, as umpire Asoka de Silva refused to refer the decision to the television umpire, Das went on to score his second fifty of the game and the seventh in his 11-Test career. He, though, was snapped up at silly point moments before the luncheon interval in Muralitharan's second spell of the morning.

The off spinner continued after lunch, as he bowled a marathon 29 over spell. Ramesh and Dravid batted cautiously and the run scoring slowed, but the Madras opener eventually reached his eighth Test fifty after nearly four hours of painstaking concentration.

In the over before the afternoon drinks interval, however, Muralitharan picked up the wicket of Ramesh with a freakish off break that pitched outside leg, before spinning back sharply to clip the top of off stump. It was his tenth wicket in the game, a feat he has now achieved six times in his 65-Test career.