Kumar Sangakkara falls for 18 in his final innings, leaving Sri Lanka needing 341 more with eight wickets in hand on Day 5
Ajinkya Rahane is the strong, silent, uncomplaining type, a no-fuss individual who goes about his business, seemingly not unduly affected by adulation or criticism. Ask him to bat at any position in any format of the game, and he will immediately take up the challenge. Ask him to stand at gully to the faster bowlers and at slip to the spinners, and he will ensure he is as well prepared as is humanly possible to ensure that he doesn’t let the bowlers down.
Rahane’s first foray at No. 3 in Test cricket didn’t quite pay off, as he went fishing outside off and edged Dhammika Prasad to third slip on Thursday’s day one of the second Test. The right-hand batsman didn’t take long to correct that anomaly, bringing up his fourth hundred in some style at the P Sara Oval.
With M Vijay as a solid and equally unselfish ally, Rahane propelled India comprehensively into the box seat, all but making sure that only one team can win this Test match. Armed with a first-innings lead of 87, India declared its second innings closed on 325 for 8 to set Sri Lanka a P Sara record 413 for victory in a minimum of 117 overs, weather permitting.
There was no final flourish from Kumar Sangakkara, whose last Test innings lasted just 29 minutes and yielded a run-a-ball 18 before he fell to R Ashwin for the fourth time this series, caught by Vijay at second slip. Sangakkara had walked into a rousing reception and another guard of honour from young kids, the Indian team and the on-field umpires after Kaushal Silva had whipped an Ashwin full toss to short midwicket in the third over.
He fell to another wonderful applause from the Indians and the reasonable audience at the P Sara, walking off with a smile and his arms raised as he bid adieu to the game that he has given so much to and that has given him so much back in return.
Dimuth Karunaratne and Angelo Mathews, both batting with the positivity that the captain has demanded all along, played with reasonable comfort against Ashwin and Amit Mishra to shepherd Sri Lanka to 72 for 2 by stumps. Sri Lanka needs a further 341 for an unlikely victory that will give it an unbeatable 2-0 series lead; India has 90 overs to fire out the remaining eight wickets. It should be a cracker.
No team has scored more than 352 to win a Test at this ground – Sri Lanka made those many to edge out South Africa by one wicket in a thriller in 2006 – but this was no time to delve into history. Sri Lanka’s challenge was to put the target out of their minds and just bat normally. Sounds pretty simple but that obviously is easier said than done. Sangakkara attempted that for a while and Mathews is still around wearing purpose like a cloak. He will, however, need considerable support from his middle order if Sri Lanka is to keep the Indian charge at bay.
As India kicked on from 70 for 1, Sri Lanka’s designs were to clearly extend the innings as long as possible. With India already 157 to the good when Sunday’s (August 23) fourth day got underway, Mathews couldn’t afford to attack them relentlessly. Vijay and Rahane were content to bide their time at the start, seeing off Rangana Herath and Dhammika Prasad with watchful care, before Vijay opened up effortlessly.
A change in bat seemed to trigger a change in mindset as well for the opening batsman, who became the first Indian to score a duck and a fifty in the same Test against Sri Lanka. Having brought up a steady half-century off 104 deliveries, Vijay lay into the bowling by smashing Dushmantha Chameera over midwicket and Tharindu Kaushal over wide long-on for sixes. Rahane was content to partake of the entertainment as Vijay went into overdrive, his last 32 runs coming in just 28 deliveries before he perished for the cause.
In trying to keep the rate of scoring going – India had made 68 in the first hour off 13.4 overs – he attempted an ambitious sweep against Kaushal and was trapped in front, ending a stand of 140 that was precisely what India had needed at that stage. By now, Rahane was firmly entrenched; set as he was, he decided to don a more attacking role without sacrificing correctness or losing shape, even as Kaushal found reward for persistence by pushing Virat Kohli back and catching him leg before during an unchanged spell of 23-1-98-4 that only came to an end when the second new ball was taken.
One of Rahane’s great virtues is his willingness to always put the team’s interests at the forefront. That is probably a given a team sport, but unselfishness isn’t as common as it should be. Rahane picked off the boundaries when the opportunity presented itself, but he also ran outstandingly between the wickets – not just his own runs but those of his partners’ as well. With Rohit Sharma, an old and familiar mate from the Mumbai set-up, Rahane stitched together 85 for the fourth wicket, dominating the stand with his industry even as the man with whom he swapped positions for this game played well within himself.
By now, Sri Lanka was clearly waiting for the declaration. At various stages, Chameera in particular bowled short from round the stumps, trying to cramp the batsmen, but with Herath finding no joy from the surface and Kaushal not able to exert adequate pressure with the fields well spread out, India were under no pressure to keep the rate of scoring going.
There was a dip from the highs of the first hour – India added 41 in the second and 42 in the third from 13 overs apiece – but Vijay’s early flourish meant it was scoring at a clip more than acceptable enough as it eyed a declaration. India was back to scoring at nearly five an over in the last 60 minutes before tea, even though they it Rohit and Rahane, both to Kaushal, within ten deliveries of each other.
Stuart Binny briefly uncorked the beefy authority that characterises his first-class and IPL batting, and the lower order chipped in, though India’s handling of Wriddhiman Saha was odd. Saha limped off 11 minutes into his innings with a right hamstring strain, but bizarrely came back at the fall of the seventh wicket even though India was already 398 to the good.
The little man hobbled along and threw his bat at the ball with little success, almost walking the singles and clearly in discomfort. And, when India came out to bat after Kohli enforced the declaration 53 minutes after tea, he didn’t keep either. KL Rahul took over that responsibility even as Patrick Farhart, the physio, tended to Saha.
India would need Saha to be available to keep wickets on the final day to Ashwin and Mishra – Rahul clearly hasn’t kept to bowlers of this quality before – which makes the events of Sunday even more bizarre. But, more importantly, it need the bowlers, spinners and pacers alike, to produce eight wicket-taking deliveries in its bid to square the series with one to play.
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