India v Sri Lanka: Day Two

On a pitch easily seduced by the mystery of Asian spin, Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble deceived and bamboozled their opponents’ batsmen to leave the Delhi Test hanging on a knife edge. A spectacular Indian collapse in the morning session preceded a rather ropey Sri Lankan effort as an intriguing match is developing.

With the experienced duo of Tendulkar and the recalled Ganguly at the crease, India would have had aspirations of a large total at the start of the day. Muralitharan though, had alternative plans. Firstly he trapped Ganguly, offering no shot, leg before with a vicious off break that spat venomously. Leg spinner Malinga Bandara then had a lacklustre Yuvraj Singh caught at short-leg for a duck. Devoid from the criticism was Tendulkar, perhaps unfortunate to be given LBW attempting to paddle-sweep Muralitharan. The importance and sheer quality of his innings was now enhanced by the carnage caused by the legendary Tamil spinner, for he had batted relatively untroubled for much of Saturday, smothering the sharp turn.

An uncertain Irfan Pathan was the next victim of the slide, snaffled by Jehan Mubarak at short-leg, before Mahendra Singh Dhoni was left clueless by an unbelievable Muralitharan doosra, pitching on leg before clipping the off-stump. Kumble and Harbhajan Singh were also baffled by the spinners, the latter deceived by another doosra. India had lost all seven of their remaining wickets for a paltry 36 runs in just over sixteen overs. Muralitharan finished with seven for 100, his 48th five wicket haul in Tests, and had switched the momentum in the game around in a flash.

Sri Lanka’s reply started steadily enough, with captain Marvan Attapattu looking strong. Avishka Gunawardene was unlucky not to capitalise on a solid start when he was deduced to be LBW to Pathan whilst on 25: replays showed that the ball was missing leg-stump. Kumar Sangakkara was maybe the guiltiest of the Sri Lankan batsmen as he prodded a loose Irfan Pathan delivery to gully. Mahela Jayawardene, following the removal of Sanath Jayasuriya from the team, must continue to provide a middle order pivot at number four. Again, as in Chennai, he did just that, consolidating a wobbly Sri Lankan position. He and Atapattu added 113 in a second wicket stand dominated mostly by Jayawardene, who drove the spinners exceptionally well. Much of the burden of the near future Sri Lanka batting order will fall upon the shoulders of the rapidly maturing Sangakkara and Jayawardene, and the degree of success in the next decade, particularly once Muralitharan retires, will be in their hands.

Trouble though loomed from the safe sanctuary that Sri Lanka sat in. Anil Kumble, after breaking the partnership when Jayawardene missed a straightforward sweep shot, ran through the middle order with a combination of guile and experience. Thilan Samaraweera was bowled by a ferocious leg-break that had the sweet scent of the Kumble of old, while Tillkaratne Dilshan lasted just a solitary ball, muddled by a more familiar flipper. Having then watched the chaos from the other end, Marvan Atapattu perished to the final ball of the day, who was superbly snatched of an inside edge by the crouching Gautam Gambhir for 88. Jehan Mubarak is the not out batsman on ten.

Tomorrow has the air of a classical encounter, with a starring cast of exotic performers. Most of the early pressure will fall on Chaminda Vaas and Mubarak, but the nagging threat of Muttiah Muralitharan will linger in the Indian conscience.

India 290 all out (96.4)
VVS Laxman 69, Sachin Tendulkar 109; Muttiah Muralitharan 7 for 100

Sri Lanka 198 for 6 (70.3)
Marvan Atapattu 88, Mahela Jayawardene 60; Anil Kumble 4 for 54

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