Clinical India level series

Fourth day of what was already a dry track, and it had to be the spinners to cause most of the damage – they did, spinners accounted for eleven of the sixteen wickets that fell today.

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First, Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralidaran combined to wrap up the Indian second innings in the first session of the day. Mendis caused most damage – he picked up the wickets of VVS Laxman (13), Anil Kumble (2) and Harbhajan Singh (11), and finished with his first ten-wicket haul in Test cricket.

The experienced Muralidaran accounted for the wickets of Sourav Ganguly (16) and Dinesh Karthik.

The two spinners stamped their authority over most Indian batsmen; it was only Dinesh Karthik, who decided that he would throw caution to the winds, and decided to challenge the spinners. He improvised well, charged down the track, played the conventional sweep and the reverse sweep, and raced his way to 20, before he holed out to Sangakkara at midwicket.

The Indians, starting from their overnight score of 200 for 4, collapsed to 269 all out – losing their last five wickets for 17 runs.

Left facing a target of 307, Sri Lanka got off to the worst possible start; on a pitch which was supposed to assist the spinners, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma ran in hard and broke the backbone of the Sri Lankan batting.

The duo picked up the wickets of Malinda Warnapura (0), Kumar Sangakkara (1) and Mahela Jayawardene (5) in the first four overs to leave the hosts reeling at 10 for 3.

Michael Vandort (10) and Thilan Samaraweera then kept the Indians at bay for over an hour. Though the wickets didn’t come the way of the Indians, they kept things tight and kept the flow of runs in check. Harbhajan Singh, who was brought into the attack only in the 19th over, struck almost immediately when he trapped Vandort in front of the stumps in his very first over.

Thilan Samaraweera and Tillekaratne Dilshan (38), who walked out in a positive frame of mind, then kept the Indians at bay for a further 16 overs and added 76 runs in each other’s company, when Ishant Sharma produced a peach of delivery, one that reared up off a length, kissed the outside edge of the bat and carried to Dinesh Karthik behind the stumps.

With the last recognized batsman back in the dressing room, the Indians stepped up the pressure and it was only a matter of time before the Sri Lankans would cave in.

Harbhajan Singh accounted for three of the last five wickets, while Anil Kumble picked up the wickets of Nuwan Kulasekara and Muttiah Muralidaran. Sri Lanka were bowled out for 136 – their lowest total in Test matches at Galle, and were handed a 170-run defeat, in well under four days.

By virtue of this win here, India drew level in the 3-Test series, and will head out to Colombo for the final Test, feeling a confident unit.

Mention must also be made of Thilan Samaraweera’s patient innings. The 31-year old, who walked in to bat when Mahela Jayawardene was dismissed, batted for over three hours, and despite being troubled by Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan, gutted it out to remain unbeaten on 67.

Virender Sehwag, for his dazzling double hundred in the first innings, that set up the match for India, was declared Man of the Match.

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