On a pitch and in a series where the fast bowlers have only been making up the numbers, a hostile and quick Ishant Sharma helped India seal an incredible comeback after they had slumped to their third-worst defeat ever in the first Test.
In the first session of the day, Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis had made sure India didn’t take their lead into the realms of the impregnable, but with Ishant bowling the way he did, the target of 307 stayed secure. Ishant got good support from Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh; the latter finished with his fifth ten-wicket haul.
Sri Lanka were attacked from a quarter they would have least expected hostilities from, and after having done well playing catch-up throughout the match, they finally fell short. The match was much closer than the 170-run margin indicated.
Ishant was accurate, he hit the bat hard, gave Dinesh Karthik some more difficulties behind the wicket, and most importantly, kept producing his special delivery repeatedly: the one that holds its line after having pitched on a length.
Ishant began with a wicket with the third ball he bowled, sending down a perfect right-armer’s ball to a left-hander, pitching it around leg and moving it away, making Malinda Warnapura play and edge. Zaheer, in the next over, produced a legcutter for Sangakkara similar to the one he did in the first Test, with similar results. And in his next over, Ishant got the biggest wicket of them all for India – Mahela Jayawardene, who looked to counterattack and cut straight to gully, where Rahul Dravid held on to a sharp chance. Dravid was exuberant at having taken the catch – he had dropped Michael Vandort in the first over, and had also been pushed out of the cordon.
Ishant and Zaheer then tightened the screws. Ishant, in particular, seemed to be bowling on a different pitch from the one that had been on display on the four previous days. At one point, the preceding 12.3 overs had cost India 11 runs and featured two huge lbw shouts, one catch off a no-ball, and most importantly, robust fast bowling. Harbhajan took advantage of that period, and trapped Vandort with an arm-ball in his first over.
But there was one final twist left in the match, and Ishant it was who pulled India out of a threatening situation. Thilan Samaraweera and Tillakaratne Dilshan had put together a swift 76-run stand, pulling Sri Lanka out of the shell they had played themselves into. Dilshan, in particular, hustled the bowling, briefly changing the texture of the game.
Ishant came up with a special over after tea, bowling at high pace, extracting extra bounce, and getting the ball to hold its line. After having beaten Dilshan twice, he finally got him to edge one, and it was all downhill for Sri Lanka after that.
Harbhajan took control of the situation then; both lower orders have, on this pitch, been hard pressed against quality spin bowling. Samaraweera, who scored a resolute half-century, could not do much about what happened at the other end. The last five wickets fell for 23 runs, Harbhajan taking three of them. When he got Mendis, he completed his ten-for, and a successful redemption after his recent misadventures.
Mendis, incidentally, had finished his first ten-wicket haul by taking Harbhajan’s wicket earlier in the day. That was the end of a collapse in which India lost their last five for 17 runs. India had started the day tentatively, but the overnight batsmen – VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly – kept the runs coming. They hadn’t yet played themselves in when Mendis nailed Laxman with another one of his special carrom balls – pitching within the stumps, breaking rapidly, and heading for off stump. Laxman’s pad intervened, but the umpire had no hesitation in sending him on his way.
Karthik came out aggressive, stepping out and hitting both Mendis and Murali for sixes, and also pulling out a reverse-sweep. He might even have had a hand in suggesting to Ganguly that he ask for a review when Ganguly was given lbw to one that seemed to be missing off stump. But just when it looked like the two might get too many, too fast, Murali pulled them back. Karthik, going for a third six, was beaten in the flight and caught in the deep. Ganguly was suckered out of the crease by a flighted, fiercely dipping delivery, and Prasanna Jayawardene’s quickness with the stumping made the dismissal look more even more comprehensive.
The rest contributed enough only for the so-called psychological advantage: when Karthik got out, India’s lead was 292; they finished on 306. Ishant, though, rendered the tussle in the first session superfluous.
That India came into the fourth day still alive had all to do with a near-solo effort by Virender Sehwag, who reached his fifth double-century in the first innings, and for the first time in his career scored a fifty in a match in which he had also scored a century. India, out of habit perhaps, managed to waste a fiery start from Sehwag, but he had done enough, as was proved when India went on to win only the third Test in which he had scored a century.
– About Cricket –
Sandesh Kumar Jaggi