Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo
It was the 65th over of India's chase. The game was lost, with just 26 runs to defend and five wickets to take. Suraj Randiv was bowling his 29th over. He had just been driven for four through extra-cover by VVS Laxman. Another wristy flick towards mid-off followed. It was a powerful shot, but Randiv dived full length to his left, and saved a certain four. The man didn't want to go down just as yet. Perhaps he didn't deserve to go down today. Not after his match haul of 9 for 162 in only his second Test, including all the wickets to fall in the second innings.
Randiv had a rough initiation into Test cricket. The first ball he bowled in Tests was short, not a long hop but short, and Virender Sehwag mercilessly cut it to backward point for four. He adjusted the lengths, but bowled one slightly short of a length later in the over. Sehwag punched that for four too. Already, the field was pushed back. That was the second day of the SSC Test, when in a short evening session, Sehwag took 14 runs off the 10 balls Randiv bowled.
On the second morning, though, Randiv came back. Bowling to Sehwag on 99. He knew Sehwag would look to go after him, so he bowled the topspinner first ball, beating Sehwag in the flight and getting him stumped. He had had his revenge, and Randiv would go on to dismiss Sehwag for the rest of the series. That was also the difference between a close defeat and a walkover here.
It was what Randiv did in the second innings at the P Sara Oval, though, that was a giant effort. The figures themselves are massive. He opened the bowling, got Sehwag out in his first over, and then bowled 21 overs unchanged, for four wickets in that spell. A break? Perish the thought. Three overs later, he was bowling from the other end. And then an over later, he went back to the preferred Air Force Flats End to take Sachin Tendulkar's wicket, keeping Sri Lanka alive.
Randiv extracted bounce from the pitch. He got turn. He has a classical action with that beautiful pivot off the front foot to boot. Most importantly, though, he was so consistent he let the captain work to a plan. Mostly he bowled round the stumps to the right-handed batsmen, pitching the ball within the stumps and getting sharp turn. A leg-side trap was set: a leg slip, a forward short leg, a short midwicket, sometimes two of them, and three deep fielders on the on side. It was crucial that he didn't give anything to cut or drive through the off side, which was virtually bare.
Randiv responded beautifully. There was hardly a chance to get runs off him on the off side without taking a risk. His extra bounce made it difficult for the batsmen to keep defensive shots down. Three of his five wickets were caught close on the leg side. One was a result of extra bounce, and the fifth was an offbreak that didn't turn because the ball was new.
"His greatest asset has been his confidence and self belief," Kumar Sangakkara said. "He's quite an attacking bowler and he's got to have that. He has got great bounce, and he will have to improve on his control a bit more to ensure he keeps building the pressure. Once he gets that done, I think he will be even better than what we see him now."
Perhaps the old ball didn't give him as much bite, perhaps the youngster became one-dimensional, perhaps he was let down by the captain who took out his straighter one by having neither a silly point nor a slip. Perhaps he was let down by Lasith Malinga being used for just two overs in the first session. That leg-side plan went on for just too long, and more varied strategies is what Randiv will learn with time. On this day, though, it was tough to not spare a thought for Randiv.