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Batsmen call the shots; three score centuries

S. Ram Mahesh

Jayawardene emulates Bradman’s record of most centuries at a venue with his ninth at the SSC

— PHOTO: AFP

INNATE ABILITY: Mahela Jayawardene’s knowledge of the craft of run-making was evident in the skill with which he milked the bowling for 90 of his 136 runs.

Colombo: Mahela Jayawardene, that slightly built artist, emulated Sir Donald Bradman on Thursday, scoring his ninth century at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) and tying the Don’s record for the most number of hundreds at a Test venue. Bradman’s centuries at the Melbourne Cricket Ground came in 17 innings, 12 fewer than Jayawardene’s 29.

That, however, doesn’t detract from the Sri Lankan captain’s 136, which with Malinda Warnapura’s 115 and Thilan Samaraweera’s unbeaten 111, allowed the host to dictate to India on the second day of the first Test.

Sri Lanka, which resumed Thursday on 85 for two, ended on 422 for four — a position of considerable strength. The touring Indians didn’t help themselves, failing to both sustain pressure with the ball and take the chances created. The bowlers managed just five maidens in the 37-over first session, two in the 29 overs between lunch and tea, and one in the period before close.

Costly lapses

Jayawardene was dropped twice (on 55 and 93) by wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik — Anil Kumble reacting with unrestrained annoyance each time. The first was a bottom edge, always difficult, off a leg-break that was pushed through. The second, which took the outside edge, was the sort of chance that keepers catch more often than not at this level.

There were other offences: Zaheer Khan caught Warnapura (on 55) off his bowling, but he had overstepped; V.V.S. Laxman, at gully, dropped the opener (on 113) off Zaheer — a tough chance, low to the fielder’s right; Samaraweera was reprieved on 53 off Harbhajan Singh, when Gautam Gambhir reacted well at short leg, but couldn’t hold on.

Jayawardene, who was dismissed as a dilettante by his critics, has over the past few years done enough to be counted as a modern-day great. His is a game built on simple mechanics, though ‘built’ isn’t the appropriate word, for it appears that batting has always come naturally to the 31-year-old. Kumar Sangakkara once said that he had had to work very hard to become the batsman he was whereas Mahela was the same since he was 15.

An aspect of Jayawardene’s batting that is often ignored is his knowledge of the craft of making runs. This was evident in the skill with which he milked the bowling for 90 of his runs (the other 46 came in boundaries) in making his 23rd Test century — and history.

History of another kind was made on Thursday, although it was from a decidedly underwhelming act. Kumble, persuaded by Harbhajan, the bowler, became the first captain in Test cricket’s 131-year history to ask the on-field umpires to refer a leg-before decision to the television umpire. It wasn’t the best of referrals: the off-spinner’s delivery hadn’t straightened sufficiently from around the wicket to threaten Warnapura’s stumps. Umpire Mark Benson, who had returned a verdict of ‘not out’, confirmed the decision after establishing contact with Rudi Koertzen. Warnapura showed what he thought of the referral by cuffing Harbhajan’s next delivery through cover for four to enter the 90s.

He reached his second Test century with a boundary behind square on the off-side — a particularly profitable area, although it must be said that not all the runs scored here were intentional.

Warnapura fell during a period the Indians threatened to fight their way back in. Zaheer and Harbhajan began exceptionally well after lunch. The left-armer subjected Jayawardene to some rare moments of bother, slanting the ball into the batsman from around the wicket and cutting it away.

A well-earned wicket

Warnapura was consumed by a beautifully weighted off-break. Harbhajan’s delivery drifted in from around the wicket forcing the left-hander to commit to playing it, dipped on him, and turned to gain the edge to first slip. Thus ended a 155-run partnership.

However, Samaraweera’s industrious manner ensured there was no loss in continuity. He put on 148 with his skipper before Ishant produced a gem that left Jayawardene off the surface after angling in through the air and allowed Karthik a moment of redemption.

Samaraweera advanced to his seventh Test century, cover-driving Sourav Ganguly for four in the golden sunshine. His partner, Tillakaratne Dilshan, had earlier become the first cricketer to make a successful appeal for referral: Benson, having adjudged the batsman caught behind off Zaheer, overturned his decision after consulting with Koertzen.

Dilshan was involved in another referral — Harbhajan’s request during Thursday’s final over for the review of a leg-before call, with the ball pitching well outside the line of leg stump, summed up India’s day.

SCOREBOARD

Sri Lanka - 1st innings: M. Vandort c Karthik b Ishant 3, M. Warnapurac Dravid b Harbhajan 115, K. Sangakkara c Dravid b Zaheer 12, M. Jayawardene c Karthik b Ishant 136, T. Samaraweera (batting) 111, T. Dilshan (batting) 20, Extras (b-4, lb-5, nb-16) 25; Total (for four wickets in 120 overs) 422.

Fall of wickets: 1-7 (Vandort), 2-57 (Sangakkara), 3-212 (Warnapura), 4- 360 (Jayawardene).

India bowling: Zaheer 27-2-112-1, Ishant 25-3-97-2, Ganguly 8-1-24-0, Harbhajan 29-2-88-1, Kumble 27-3- 75-0, Sehwag 4-0-17-0.

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