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Scholarly century from Sangakkara puts pressure on tourists

Both teams retain realistic chances of victory in the first Test between Sri Lanka and West Indies at Galle, but the pendulum swung towards the home team after their batsmen carried on the fight-back started by Muttiah Muralitharan on Wednesday.

The Sri Lankan top order exposed the under prepared West Indian bowling attack, scoring 240 runs in the day to finish on 343-3, when bad light and then rain stopped play 23 overs early, for the second day in succession.

Wicket-keeper batsman Kumar Sangakkara, who has only been off the field for 27 minutes during the first three days of play, marshaled the innings throughout the day as he scored an unbeaten 126 from 308 balls, his second Test century in a hugely promising young career.

Sangakkara, a 24-year-old scholar of law, displayed great application as he dropped anchor to play a supporting role to the effervescent Mahela Jayawardene in a 162 run all-wicket partnership record between the two sides.

Jayawardene came to the wicket after the fall of Marvan Atapattu, who was caught at first slip off the leg-spin of Dinanath Ramnarine shortly before the luncheon interval, and looked destined for his fourth consecutive century in Tests before being cruelly run out for 99.

It was skillful batting - especially by Jayawardene, who was simply serene - but the West Indian bowlers of yesteryear would hang they head in shame if they bowled as plentiful a supply of bad balls as were served up today.

Mervyn Dillon was persevering and threatening throughout and Ramnarine was testing in periods, but Colin Stuart and Neil McGarrell were less than ordinary, right from the first ball of the day, which Sangakkara slapped disdainfully to the square fence.

Stuart and McGarrell were, of course, woefully short of match fitness. Stuart has bowled 12 first class overs in three months, whilst NcGarrell's bowling in Sri Lanka had been restricted to the nets prior to this opening Test - hardly the recipe for success on a bland pitch.

The bowlers were particularly guilty of dropping short, which is a cardinal sin against the wristy Sri Lankans, who love the shot like no other. Hooper packed the field square of the wicket, but Jaywardene and Sangakkara still threaded it through time and again.

Sri Lanka scored 27 boundaries in the day. If the outfield had not been slowed by the heavy rains the night before, then they would have scored many more.

Sri Lanka remain confidant that, weather permitting, they can press for victory. A remarkably fresh-faced Sangakkara, speaking to the media straight after unbuckling his pads, said: "We have a target in mind and all we need to do is carry on tomorrow like we have done today."

Whilst admitting that the pitch remains "very good for batting" he believes that: "Murali is going to be more effective in the second innings, as he is going to get more turn and bite. We will have to see how the West Indians handle him."

They would be in far better position if Jayawardene had remained at the wicket. The pace with which he was scoring his runs (99 from 134 balls) was quickly shifting the initiative towards Sri Lanka. Whilst he was at the crease Sri Lanka were ticking along at four runs per over.

When an under-pressure Russel Arnold came to the crease the run scoring slowed (35 runs in 17.1 overs). Sangakkara had lost his rhythm and appeared focused on survival till the close, whilst Arnold was given a tremendous working over by an animated Dillon.

However, Jayawardene, just 24-years-old, on the verge of his ninth Test century and his fourth in consecutive Tests, made a fatal misjudgment as he tried to scramble the last run and Marlon Samuels - partially making up for dropping Sangakkara on 72 - threw down the stumps.

Sri Lanka, 105 runs behind, would not reveal their target, but we can assume that we will want to draw level at the latest by lunch tomorrow and then quickly extend it to 50-100 before a declaration.

Of course, all is not lost for the West Indies. As they showed on Wednesday, when they lost their last five wickets for 25, this game can change very quickly. This has all the makings of a classic Test.