Tillakaratne double-century sets up victory chance on final day

Prior to tea a military helicopter circled the Sinhalese Sports Club before a seven-man team of elite commandos sky-dived into the stadium during the interval. For a moment we wondered whether their mission was to rescue the West Indies who were slipping towards their third consecutive defeat.

It turns out that they were delivering the shining brass Janashakthi National Test series trophy and, at the time, it seemed a wise decision to not wait until the final day for the air drop, as the West Indies looked set to fold up completely having lost both openers cheaply, having earlier conceded a significant first innings deficit.

But West Indies did rally after the departure of Wing Commander Hashim and his sky-diving squadron, as Ramnaresh Sarwan (57) and Brian Lara (76) - of course - scored half-centuries and added 125 runs for the third wicket to give the tourists some hope of saving the game. At the close they were 145 for two, needing 92 runs to make Sri Lanka bat again.

It comes as no surprise that it is Sarwan and Lara who are once again resisting Sri Lanka. The former has battled hard all series scoring three half-centuries and deserves a maiden hundred tomorrow. The latter has been simply brilliant and has now scored 634 runs in the series, which is the second highest aggregate in a three-Test series after Graham Gooch's Indian summer in 1990/1 (752 runs).

The pair reacted positively to the early loss of Chris Gayle and Daren Ganga, who were both dismissed by Chaminda Vaas in a somewhat predictable manner.

Gayle, who has had a disastrous series after a promising tour to Zimbabwe, recorded his third consecutive duck as he was edged an outswinger to Mahela Jayawardene at third slip first ball. It was the fifth time in six innings that he had been dismissed by Vaas, who has exploited the left-handers stiff footwork and uncertainty outside his off-stump. Ganga was trapped lbw has he walked straight into an inswinger.

West Indies were 20 for two and Sarwan responded with a flurry of boundaries. Nuwan Zoysa was pulled for three fours and Muttiah Muralitharan, introduced in the eighth over, was slog-swept second ball. They brought up the fifty in just 62 balls before consolidating in the second part of the evening.

Sarwan played well but struggled against Muralitharan. He was dropped at slip on 45 after edging his straighter delivery and came with a whisker of being caught by a leaping Upul Chandana at mid-wicket. The 21-year-old Guyanan was helped by Lara, who unselfishly, if somewhat bizarrely, shielded the number three from the off-spinner by farming the strike. But Muralitharan is no breeze, even for Lara, who is reading him from the hand. He had moments of doubt and Sri Lanka's raucous close-fielders are convinced that he was caught behind when on 45. West Indies fate now seems to rest on the pair carrying on well into the final day

Earlier in the day Sri Lanka had extended their 87-run overnight lead to 237 thanks to a career best 204 from Hashan Tillakaratne and 87 from Thilan Samaraweera, plus a couple of late-order cameos. The pair added 165 for the sixth wicket, surpassing their record 154-run stand in Galle, allowing Sri Lanka to amass 627 for nine; the second highest innings total in their 19 year Test history and the first time that West Indies had conceded six hundred runs for 23 years.

Tillakaratne, 143 not out overnight, was more subdued today until the last dash for his double century as he ran out of partners, but he was equally efficient, rarely hitting the ball in the air and did not offer a single chance in an innings that spanned nine hours. His greatest obstacle was a hamstring injury that he had pulled the previous afternoon. However, aided with painkillers and with his left leg heavily strapped, he batted on without a runner.

West Indies bowlers hadn't looked like taking a wicket all morning, even when they took the new ball, so it was no surprise when the eventual breakthrough was self-inflicted. Tillakaratne drove to Chris Gayle at mid-off and set off for a single, but then hesitated and the ensuing confusion left Samaraweera inches short of his crease after a direct hit (510 for six).

Tillakaratne then added 40 with Vaas before the left-hander was caught at mid-on and 42 with Niroshan Bandaratillake before the ninth wicket fell with Tillakaratne on 193. The sight of a beaming Muralitharan, swinging his bat like an over eager Lathi-waving Indian policeman, would not have been reassuring and he quite rightly made a final and successful sprint for the milestone.