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Sri Lankan tail leaves Muralitharan waiting in the wings

A large and expectant crowd braved the stifling heat and humidity on the second day of the final Janashakthi National Test at Galle to watch Muttiah Muralitharan pass the 400 mark. But they were deprived of seeing their hero make history by a bloody-minded performance by Sri Lanka's tail.

Starting the day precariously placed on 243 for six the Sri Lankan lower order rallied, adding a further 185 runs in five hours before being bowled out for 418, an imposing total on a powdering pitch.

Belatedly, Muralitharan did appear, with six close fielders hovering around the bat, but he failed to grab a wicket during a testing six-over spell, although he came close when Mahela Jayawardene spilled a catch at his bootstraps off Stuart Carlisle, who had already been missed in the slips off fast bowler Charitha Fernando.

Zimbabwe survived a potentially tricky 19 over session till the close, finishing on 18 without loss, and start again tomorrow with a follow on target of 219 foremost in their minds.

It will not be easy. Sri Lanka's batsman complained afterwards of a pitch that is already disintegrating, showing variations in pace and bounce. More importantly the ball is spinning violently and Muralitharan could be well nigh impossible to play. With Monday being 'Thai Pongal' and a national holiday, the spectators will surely come again.

For the crowd, the disappointment of not seeing Sri Lanka's spin magician pass 400 was tempered by the surprise performance of local leg-spinner Upul Chandana, who narrowly missed out on a maiden Test hundred.

The right-hander, picked in the team primarily for his wrist spin, joined Thilan Samaraweera in the morning after the early loss of Chaminda Vaas - guilty of flaying wildly across the line of a straight ball from Heath Streak - and helped compile a Sri Lankan record partnership for the eighth wicket.

The pair added 146 runs, turning a mediocre total into a very good one. But, boy, was it painful to begin with as Zimbabawe's makeshift spinners went onto the defensive and the Sri Lankan pair into their shells. Only 47 runs were scored in 27 overs and the crowd could be forgiven for wondering why they had come to watch.

However, after the luncheon interval, Chandana showed greater adventure, partially breaking the deadlock with the quick use of his feet and some wristy drives. He reached his first Test fifty with a lofted drive straight down the ground and had moved on to 81 by the tea interval.

At the other end, Samaraweera was providing further evidence of an imperturbable temperament as he eschewed all fripperies and stonewalled the Zimbabweans, who, in turn, showed their character by staying remarkably perky throughout their exhausting 11-hour stay in the field.

After tea, the crowd's focus moved from Muralitharan to Chandana's century. Again they were to be frustrated. Once too often the wiry-built right-hander waltzed down the wicket and aimed a lofted drive. He failed to get the desired elevation and offered a skimming catch to Carlisle at mid off.

The innings soon closed as Samaraweera's 335-minute vigil came to an abrupt end when he was run out after a mid-pitch hesitation with Fernando. Nevertheless, the 25-year-old's prodigious start to international cricket continued. He had scored 76, his third fifty, to maintain an atomic average of 103 after eight Tests.

Murailtharan then threatened some late evening entertainment with a few characteristic swipes but the innings ended when Fernando was clean bowled.

Douglas Marillier was the most successful bowler, picking up four wickets for 101, but was not the best, too frequently dropping short or offering juicy low full tosses.

Grant Flower was the hardest to score off as he tossed the ball outside leg stump, whilst the effort of the fast bowlers, Heath Streak and Travis Friend, was perhaps the most heroic performance of the day, as the pair churned out 58 overs on one of the most unforgiving surfaces for fast bowlers imaginable.