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COMRADES IN ARMS: Harbhajan Singh (right) and Ishant Sharma destroyed the Sri Lankan batting on Sunday sharing seven wickets.
Galle: Left for dead in Colombo, interred mercilessly by Sri Lanka at the Sinhalese Sports Club last Sunday, India completed a remarkable resuscitation in the pretty coastal town of Galle, thus breathing life into the three-Test series.
A week is a long time in international sport, and this Indian side has made a practice of showcasing its resilience just when it’s written off, but even by those frames of reference, the 170-run win, achieved with a day to spare, is of considerable significance.Point to prove
With South Africa triumphing in England, India must secure a series win here to confirm what appeared obvious earlier this year in Australia — that Anil Kumble’s men comprise the second-best Test side, and have sensible ambitions on the top spot.
Sunday found the second Test moulting with a rapidity reptiles of discernment avoid. Play proceeded at a leisurely pace at first, seemingly taking its cue from the holiday traffic and the empty market lanes.
Without warning the day combusted, producing so frenetic a procession between the dressing rooms and the middle that a round-trip operator would have done roaring business.
India, looking to extend a lead of 237, lost four wickets in the space of 13 balls, but crucially turned it around through its seamers and extracted three Sri Lankan batsmen in a period of similar length before lunch.
That two of these three involved Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, the home side’s finest players, ensured the Indians would eat their rice, curry, and pol sambol without worrying greatly about their collapse in the morning.Top performer
Harbhajan Singh might have finished with a richly deserved ten-wicket haul — the off-spinner’s first outside India — but it is difficult to look beyond Ishant Sharma for Sunday’s top performer.
Bowling with a rhythm reminiscent of his magnificent displays in Australia, Ishant did everything his captain asked of him.
The fast-bowler provided the breakthrough, angling and cutting a rapid delivery across Malinda Warnapura, the left-handed opener, to procure an edge for second slip. Ishant claimed the important wicket of Mahela with a ball that bounced on the Sri Lankan captain, forcing him to dab straight to gully.
Then, after Thilan Samaraweera and Tillakaratne Dilshan appeared to have mounted resistance going into tea, the 19-year-old gave the Sri Lankans a post-tea shock, dismissing Dilshan with a nasty lifter that had straightened.
Ishant’s pace didn’t touch the heights it did in Australia, where he regularly clocked the mid-to-late 140s (kmph) and breached occasionally the mark of 150. Here he settled for the late 130s, often passing 140. Noticeable was his sustained hostility; indeed Ishant and senior new-ball partner Zaheer Khan lifted their intensity in the period before lunch.Vital strike
Zaheer’s conquest of Kumar Sangakkara was vital in the context of the fourth day. The left-handed Sri Lankan vice-captain is the side’s second-best high-stakes player at home.
As he showed in the first innings, Sangakkara can scuttle a bowling captain’s best-laid plans, quickly turning a position of weakness to one of advantage. He is also Sri Lanka’s best organised batsman: a pursuit of 307 requires a deviser, and Zaheer’s dismissal of Sangakkara deprived Sri Lanka of man who could structure the chase.
Zaheer did it with a corker, gestating a delivery that left Sangakkara late off an unimpeachable length. Much like in the first-innings at the SSC, Zaheer caught the left-hander on the move.
Harbhajan’s wicket of Vandort was his best conceived in the second innings. Having tested the static left-handed opener with flighted deliveries, the off-spinner pushed one through from around the wicket.
Vandort played back — fatally. Sri Lanka’s bottom-half crumbled, the last five wickets falling for a mere six runs. Kumble ended matters by having Muttiah Muralitharan caught and bowled.
Samaraweera stayed unconquered, his 126-ball 67 bereft of the support it deserved. Another Sri Lankan who suffered a fate most undeserved was Ajantha Mendis. In only his second Test, the mystery spinner finished with a 10-wicket haul — surely the first of a fair few.Matter of concern
For India, the performance of wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik is a matter of concern. He dropped Dilshan off Harbhajan, and although it didn’t prove costly, it will have bled him of confidence. A ’keeper who isn’t entirely confident of his abilities is a liability; and few captains can afford to patiently condone mistakes.
To be fair to Karthik, three of his four misses thus far in the series, have been difficult chances, demanding precise footwork, acute concentration, and a good deal of fortune.
Briefly on Sunday, he showed what he can do with the bat. Watched by his wife, Karthik batted fearlessly against the spinners, again walking the fine line between foolhardiness and valour.
Eventually he fell off the high wire, but his innings of 20, and the street smartness he showed in convincing Sourav Ganguly to ask for a referral was the difference between setting a chase of 250 and one of over 300.
It didn’t matter in the end, but at least he submitted to Kumble a semblance of a petition for inclusion in the third Test.
India — 1st innings: 329.
Sri Lanka — 1st innings: 292.
India — 2nd innings: G. Gambhir b Mendis 74, V. Sehwag c Dilshan b Vaas 50, R. Dravid lbw b Muralitharan 44, S. Tendulkar c M. Jayawardene b Vaas 31, S. Ganguly st P. Jayawardene b Muralitharan 16, V.V.S. Laxman lbw b Mendis 13, D. Karthik c Sangakkara b Muralitharan 20, A. Kumble lbw b Mendis 2, Harbhajan c & b Mendis 11, Ishant (run out) 0, Zaheer (not out) 1; Extras (lb-7): 7. Total (in 76.2 overs): 269.
Fall of wickets: 1-90 (Sehwag), 2-144 (Gambhir), 3-200 (Tendulkar), 4-200 (Dravid), 5-221 (Laxman), 6-252 (Karthik), 7-255 (Ganguly), 8-257 (Kumble), 9-257 (Ishant).
Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 13-4-32-2, Kulasekara 5-0-31-0, Muralitharan 31-3-107-3, Mendis 27.2-4-92-4.
Sri Lanka — 2nd innings: M. Vandort lbw b Harbhajan 10, M. Warnapura c Laxman b Ishant 0, K. Sangakkara c Laxman b Zaheer 1, M. Jayawardene c Dravid b Ishant 5, T. Samaraweera (not out) 67, T. Dilshan c Karthik b Ishant 38, P. Jayawardene c Ganguly b Harbhajan 4, C. Vaas lbw b Harbhajan 0, N. Kulasekara c Ishant b Kumble 1, A. Mendis c Kumble b Harbhajan 2, M. Muralitharan c & b Kumble 0; Extras (b-4, lb-2, nb-2): 8. Total (in 47.3 overs): 136.
Fall of wickets: 1-4 (Warnapura), 2-5 (Sangakkara), 3-10 (M. Jayawardene), 4-37 (Vandort), 5-113 (Dilshan), 6-130 (P. Jayawardene), 7-131 (Vaas), 8-132 (Kulasekara), 9-135 (Mendis).
India bowling: Zaheer 8-1-18-1, Ishant 15-8-20-3, Kumble 10.3-3-41-2, Harbhajan 14-1-51-4.
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