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Sri Lanka grind on remoselessly in Galle

In what appeared to be an attempt to break the spirit of the foot-sore West Indians, Sri Lanka's batsmen ground on remorselessly on the fourth day of the Galle Test, to set-up an opportunity for their spinners to press for victory on the final day.

Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya finally called the innings to close on 590-9 after Hashan Tillakaratne had completed his eighth Test century and the West Indian players had been forced to endure just over 14 hours in the field.

The old fashioned "wear them out then knock them out" strategy then produced its first casualty when a weary Chris Gayle was caught at mid-off whilst trying to drive an innocuous looking delivery from Chaminda Vaas.

Daren Ganga and Ramnaresh Sarwan held their together their concentration till the umpires finally called off play, with the West Indies 9-1, still 133 runs in arrears.

West Indies coach Roger Harper was upbeat at the close, pointing out that the team had scored over 400 in the first innings and were confidant of batting out the final day on a pitch that has not deteriorated significantly.

Sri Lankan coach Dav Whatmore described it as "a tremendous effort by the batsmen to overhaul the West Indies total" but the tourists could have been put under greater pressure if the batsmen been more industrious earlier in the day.

Starting the day on 343-3, they struggled to score freely in the first two sessions, as the West Indies employed deep-set fields and bowled tighter than they had done on Thursday and Wednesday. Sri Lanka scored 69 in the morning and 94 in afternoon before raising the tempo slightly in evening, but still only cobbled together 247 runs in 92.4 overs.

Sanath Jayasuriya admitted that they had got "a little bit stuck" but insisted that the intention had always been to gather a lead of around 150.

"We wanted to try and make sure that we didn't have to bat again," he explained. "Unfortunately we lost Russel (Arnold) and Kumar (Sangakkara), as they are the players who can score freely. At the end of the day I am happy. We managed to get a 140 run lead got one wicket before the close.

"It will be difficult tomorrow, as batsmen can still score runs on this wicket," he warned. "Getting out Carl Hooper and Brian Lara will be the key to victory."

Sri Lanka were indeed handicapped by the early loss of Russel Arnold, who was trapped leg-before by Dinanath Ramnarine for 33 in the fourth over of the day. He had the ability to push the run-rate and without him the run-scoring mantle was passed onto the team's grafters.

Kumar Sangakkara's 140, which last for eight hours and 48 minutes, was an epic display of concentration and patience, but he struggled on the fourth morning and should have been caught off his very first scoring shot by Chris Gayle at first slip. In the end, he managed only 14 runs in 107 minutes before he was run out after a mix-up with Tillakaratne.

Tillakaratne and Thilan Samaraweera, playing his second Test innings after making a century on his debut, then chipped away at the lead.

After lunch the innings came to a virtual standstill as 22 runs were scored in 12 overs during a grim passage of play. At one stage the pair went 36 overs without hitting a boundary.

When Tillakaratne lofted Neil McGarrell straight down the ground to bring up his fifty, and finally overhaul the West Indies first innings total, the pair started to show greater urgency.

The partnership was only broken after tea, when Samaraweera top edged an attempted pull and was caught by Ridley Jacobs for 77, by which time it had yielded 154 runs.

Chaminda Vaas (7), Niroshan Bandaratillake (4) and Muttiah Muralitharan (14) then attacked the bowling as Tillakaratne completed his patient century. When Muralitharan was trapped leg-before and Jayasuriya declared, he had scored 105 from 247 balls.

Sri Lankan hopes, as they have done so often before, now appear to rest in the hands of off-spinner Muralitharan. However, on this flat pitch, the West Indies really should be able to salvage a draw.