Tillakaratne dominates third day at SSC

Veteran left-hander Hashan Tillakaratne scored his second century of the series and Russel Arnold partially broke off the shackles of poor form as Sri Lanka batted throughout the third day of this third and final Janashakthi National Test match.

The day had been touted beforehand as a pivotal one and with Sri Lanka overtaking the West Indies first innings total with five wickets to spare, the odds are now stacked against the tourists avoiding the humiliation of a series whitewash.

By the close of play Sri Lanka had turned a 197 run deficit into an 87 run lead after 141-run fifth wicket partnership between Tillakaratne and Arnold and then an unbroken 133 sixth wicket partnership between Tillakaratne and Thilan Samaraweera.

Tillakaratne innings was the highlight of the day and the best of his four hundreds since returning to the side four months ago after a two-year absence. Whether he should have been discarded after the 1999 World Cup is debatable, but one senses his frustration at being sidelined has made him even hungrier for success in the twilight of his career.

During this series he scored 105 not out in Galle, 87 and 7* in Kandy and now an unbeaten 143 here, which surpasses his previous career best (136*) scored against India in August. Remarkably, he has only been out once in the series having batted for just short of seventeen hours.

The 34-year-old, who was troubled with a hamstring injury for much of the day, is known best for his dour accumulation and back-to-the-wall defiance, but on this occasion he showed another side, batting stylishly and vigorously to reach his fifty off 77-balls and hundred off 149 balls. His timing was impeccable; especially his straight drives which fizzed across the lush green outfield to the boundary.

Tillakaratne came to the crease after the fall of Mahela Jayawardene for 32, who was trapped lbw by Mervyn Dillon, after the first half hour this morning. It appeared a crucial break through as Jaywardene is also in regal form, whilst Arnold, the remaining batsmen, hadn't scored a fifty for 10 consecutive innings.

But Arnold finally repaid some of the faith shown in him by the selectors and team management as he went onto score 65 in a controlled innings spanning nearly four hours. The 28-year-old left-hander hadn't lost his form completely, just his capacity to stay at the wicket. He was hitting the ball cleanly, but had suffered from an over-eagerness to dominate and an over-reliance on those nurdles and flicks that he employs so well in the one-day game. This time he played straighter and with greater patience. Still, he will be cursing his failure to capitalise fully and score a century after being caught behind off a cross batted shot.

Sri Lanka were 345 for five at that stage, mid-way through the afternoon, still with a deficit of 45 runs. But the obdurate Thilan Samaraweera stayed with Tillakaratne till the close to post the pair's third century stand in five Test matches. Samaraweera was 68 not out at the close having played within his limitations and with great application.

Four months ago Dav Whatmore was bemoaning a wobbly late middle-order, but the adhesive pair have helped solve that the problem for meantime, at least on sub-continental wickets, anyway, where Samaraweera can play a role with his off-spin.

"Hashan (Tillakaratne) has been batting very well for us since he came back," he said. "He took a couple of games to get back into the grove but since then he showed us what we have been missing.

"Thilan (Samaraweera) is a very committed cricketer. He may not have the skill of the Jayasuriya's and Jayawardene's but he is very determined and that determination can be as effective in its own way."

Tomorrow Sri Lanka will try to chisel out as large a lead as possible. There is no great urgency with over six sessions remaining, though there may be concerns that the pitch seems to be wearing too slowly.

West Indies are not out of the game if they can conjure up a early morning collapse, but this seems unlikely with a bowling attack - with the single exception of Dillon who bowled with great heart - that is looking more innocuous with each passing session. They were further handicapped by a side injury to leg-spinner Dinanath Ramnarine, who has only been able to bowl 17 overs in the innings.