Kumar Sangakkara’s 32 corners the most attention even as Sri Lanka reaches 140 for 3 in reply to visitor’s 393
As the clock above the scoreboard on the northeast corner of the ground ticked over to 1.09pm, the not inconsiderable gathering at the P Sara Oval rose to its feet. Two hours and ten minutes later, at 3.19pm, that act was repeated, again in honour of the principal protagonist of the game.
The second day’s play on Friday (August 21) in the second Test wasn’t a thrill-a-minute rollercoaster. The word attrition was perhaps created with this day in mind. Cricket was slow-paced – not unlike the playing surface – without being overly tense; restraint and grim determination was the overall theme even during the 110 minutes Kumar Sangakkara occupied at the batting crease, when the air was pregnant with breathless anticipation and the fervent wish of one final flourish from the man who is three days away from international retirement.
Sangakkara managed just 32, making up for a most tentative start with a few handsome trademark strokes. But his innings actually best illustrated the constant struggle between bat and ball, with neither discipline ever moving totally into the ascendancy.
Consequently, despite another extended day’s cricket, the Test match lies in exactly the same position as it was after the first day – poised beautifully, very much in the balance, with much depending on the moving day that the middle day of a Test generally is.
Despite losing R Ashwin ten minutes into the morning when it kicked on from 319 for 6, India managed to extend its first innings to 393 on the back of a second successive half-century from Wriddhiman Saha. The little wicketkeeper-batsman had his fair share of luck early on and made the most of it, adding 46 with Amit Mishra for the eighth wicket to ensure that the lower order didn’t cave in without a fight.
Sri Lanka, which began its reply 20 minutes after lunch, received an early jolt when Umesh Yadav tasted success with his first ball in this country by trapping Dimuth Karunaratne in front. Kaushal Silva, the other diminutive star of the day, alternated between obdurate fortuitousness and stylish strokeplay on his way to a ninth half-century, and Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Mathews somehow hung on to close, which Sri Lanka reached at 140 for 3, still 253 in arrears.
For all of Saha and Silva’s industry, Mathews’s strange tactics that saw Rangana Herath bowl just two overs before lunch, and for all of Ashwin’s continued mastery over the ball without commensurate reward, this day was largely about Sangakkara. Perhaps, the cricketing gods had deigned thus, which would then easily explain the absence of any standout show of individual brilliance that might otherwise have snatched the spotlight away from the retiring stalwart.
Sangakkara came out to face the eighth delivery of the innings, greeted not just by a guard of honour from the Indians and Bruce Oxenford and Rod Tucker, the umpires, but also a wonderful yorker from Yadav that he somehow brought his bat down on in time. Yadav had found excellent shape in to the left-hand batsman, like he had the ball before when he homed in on Karunaratne’s pads. But in the same over, he twice beat Sangakkara on the outside edge with deliveries that shaped away to send hearts fluttering in the stands as well as the air-conditioned boxes which housed, among others, Sangakkara’s wife Yehali and his great buddy Mahela Jayawardena.
It took Sangakkara 14 deliveries to get off the mark as he half-edged, half-guided Ishant Sharma behind gully for a brace. The next ball came back in sharply and skewed off the inside edge to fine-leg. Inauspicious start, but he was still there.
Silva, too, had his problems at the other end and after five overs, Sri Lanka was 5 for 1. Both Ishant and Yadav were impeccable, and there was no let up in intensity even when they were done as Stuart Binny sent down an exceptional spell when he comprehensively had the measure of Silva, and Ashwin straightaway fell into wonderful rhythm.
Binny, more than holding his own as the third seamer, beat Silva time after time with late awayswing from the stump line, and did find the outside edge when the batsman was 14. Binny’s celebrations at his maiden Test success, however, soon turned to a frustrated, sheepish smile as it transpired that he had overstepped. Silva lived to fight another day, and Sri Lanka somehow kept the Indian bowling – persistently disciplined and probing – at bay for well on two hours.
Not long after Silva’s escape, Sangakkara was thrown a lifeline when Ajinkya Rahane at slip failed to hold on to a tough offering high to his left as the batsman thick-edged an Ashwin cut. But the offie wasn’t to be denied. Clearly on top his game, he got rid of Sangakkara for the third time this series not long afterwards.
Bowling from round the stumps, Ashwin got significant turn as he continued to flight the ball. Sangakkara’s hopeful lunge facilitated the ball running off the outside edge, and Rahane flew to his left at slip to hang on, millimetres off the turf, as the second-wicket stand ended at 74. The Indians huddled together to clap Sangakkara off; the audience cheered him on as Sangakkara half waved his helmet and bat at them, aware that he would be back with the bat one more time in the game.
The emotions were put on the backburner with his exit as India looked to make further inroads. As he has been all series, Ashwin was positively outstanding during a long spell of 13-1-37-1; he has bowled worse with better returns. Virat Kohli attacked with pace from the Pavilion End and spin from the Tennis Court End, his fields practical rather than adventurous in deference to the nature of the surface.
Mishra, who had bowled one exploratory over from the other end, replaced Ashwin at the Tennis Court End and didn’t take long to get into the game, having Silva – who had 17 runs in his last four innings – caught on the sweep off a top edge. It was a tame end to a knock that was more stodgy than solid, more scrappy than fluent.
India kept plugging away, Yadav as impressive with the old ball as he had been with the new, but Mathews and Thirimanne came unscathed through anxious late moments.
Earlier, India’s hopes of adding considerably to 319 for 6 had been dented in the day’s third over when Ashwin drove loosely at Mathews and was caught at short cover. Saha had failed to add to his overnight 19 when Dhammika Prasad shaved his off stump without disturbing the bails, and Dinesh Chandimal caught him on the half-volley off the same bowler off the inside edge. Mishra survived a massive and justified shout for catch at the wicket off Mathews, who got the newish ball to go considerably during a fine exhibition (4.4-3-7-1) of swing bowling, but neither Saha nor Mishra was going to throw his hand away.
Assiduously, they pushed the Indian total forward, thankful that Herath was off the attack for almost the entire session. Mishra was the slightly more enterprising while Saha was happy to bat on in unhurried fashion, until Dushmantha Chameera ended their alliance by nicking off the leg-spinner.
Herath polished off the innings after lunch in the space of ten deliveries, catching Saha and Ishant in front to finish with 4 for 81. India, though, will have taken 393 any day in a game where it must do all the running if it still entertains hopes of a rare away series win.
To see the full scorecard of this game, please click here.