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Muralitharan leads Sri Lankan fightback on day two

A dramatic West Indies batting collapse inspired by spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan pulled Sri Lanka back into the first Test in Galle on Wednesday, to leave the match evenly poised after the second day.

West Indies, who started the day well placed on 316-3, extended their score to 409-4 at lunch, before collapsing in a heap during a frenetic hour after lunch, in which six wickets fell for 69.

Sri Lanka, replying to 448 and thus first needing 248 to avoid the follow on, started like they wanted a first innings lead by lunch the next day, racing to 37 off the first five overs.

They slowed after the fall of Jayasuriya (25 off 19 balls), who was caught at backward point trying to hit his fifth boundary, but lost no further wickets before bad light stopped play, finishing on 103-1.

Opener Marvan Atapattu unbeaten on 46 from 107 balls and wicket-keeper batsman Kumar Sangakkara on 27 from 85 balls.

Muralitharan had toiled away for 40 overs on the first day without his usual success, taking just one wicket. On the second morning, he was not used until the second hour, but in his third over of the day he deceived Carl Hooper (69 from 120 balls) in air to end a stylish innings from the captain.

It also brought to a close a West Indies record 153 run fourth wicket partnership against Sri Lanka that had threatened to overwhelm the home team.

Still, with Lara at the wicket at lunch, Sri Lanka looked in deep trouble.

Muralitharan then swapped ends and soon captured the prize scalp of Lara (178 from 293 balls), who gloved a sweep and was smartly caught by an alert Sangakkara diving forward, to leave the West Indies 423-5.

The tourists then capitulated. Chaminda Vaas, probing away diligently from the Fort End, joined in the action with Muralitharan, and the pair plucked out the remaining five wickets for 14 runs.

Marlon Samuels foolishly tried to drive a flighted off-break against the spin and was bowled through the gate for 16. Ridley Jacobs nibbled an outswinger from Vaas and Mervyn Dillion flashed a snick to first slip.

Three balls later Muralitharan finished off the innings as Dinanath Ramnarine was picked up at silly point and Colin Stuart was bowled first ball.

Muralitharan had finished with 6-125, the 29th time he had taken five wickets in an innings (only Richard Hadlee has taken more). More impressively, he had taken 5-21 in the day from 13.3 overs.

Speaking afterwards, with a Cheshire cat-like grin, he said: "During the first day my rhythm was not quite there, but today it was coming out really nicely.

"We always thought that if we could get Lara out we get all the other wickets quickly, as they had some inexperienced batsmen to come and it is easy for me to take the wickets of tailenders," he said.

Sri Lanka, instead of facing a total in excess of 500, that had seemed probable, they were left with a manageable total on the best batting pitch seen at Galle in its seven Test history.

All three results remain possible. In 1998 England scored 445 at the Oval against Sri Lanka and believed they had safeguarded the game only to see the opposition rattle up 591, before Muralitharan grabbed nine wickets in the English second innings to win the game.

Muralitharan was upbeat about the team's chances: "Unfortunately, Lara got a big one, but this is a batting wicket and still we can get a result if we score around 500. By the fourth and fifth day it is going to spin a long way."

The West Indies will believe that any lead will be useful on a turning pitch, which this is sure to be by the fourth and fifth day. Sri Lanka are still a not inconsiderable 345 runs adrift.

Both Atapattu and Sangakkara played well. Atapattu drove fluently straight down the ground for two boundaries and square cut McGarrell for another, whilst Sangakkara played himself in carefully, before hitting four fours in the final hour.

The tourists look like they will depend heavily upon Mervyn Dillion, who bowled a testing ten over spell with the new ball, and leg-spinner Dinanath Ramanarine, who came on in the 23rd over of the innings.

Dillion's new partner, Colin Stuart, who looked impressive in Matara before he retired with leg cramps, lacked rhythm and was wayward, conceding 22 runs in his first three overs.

Neil McGarrell, playing his first game of the two-week long tour, looked rusty and failed to trouble the Sri Lankan batsmen unduly with his flat trajectory.