With just one day to go in the Ahmedabad Test, Sri Lanka have been the dominant side without an iota of doubt. And with two Indian top order batsmen already back in the hut, India will have to bat exceptionally well on the final day to save the Test. More than Virender Sehwag, it is first innings saviour Rahul Dravid’s dismissal which could hurt India badly. The India number three, who was a tad unlucky to be adjudged lbw, has the perfect technique and temperament under the prevailing circumstances. Unfortunately, he won’t be around as India try to save the match on the final day. It is not to say that the others are not good enough. Also, the pitch is still pretty good. Yet, pressure can make people do funny things and it remains to be seen how the rest cope with it.
Sri Lanka’s delayed declaration will be a subject of discussion. However, there will be criticism only if India manage to save the Test. There are two ways of outdoing the opposition while setting a target — bat them out of the game and then apply complete pressure by having umbrella fields or dangling the carrot and giving the team batting last a sniff that they can win. Kumar Sangakkara decided to opt for the former. His logic definitely would have been that with the pitch playing well the visitors could not afford to give India the slightest chance of going for victory. The fact that Lanka have never won a Test in India might also have influenced the think-thank, so the delay in the declaration was understandable.
In spite of the time lost, Lanka still have a strong chance of going for a historic win. No matter how good a pitch is, the last day will always have something to offer for the bowlers. The spinners Rangana Herath and Muttiah Muralitharan, in particular, could prove a handful on the final day. And impressive medium pacer Chanaka Welegedara wicket-taking ability can also unsettle the Indians, especially early on when he has been at his deadliest. So India have a real fight on hand to come out unscathed.
The host will be under immense pressure when they take the field on day five. However, they can learn plenty from the manner in which the two Jayawardenes – Mahela and Prasanna – applied themselves over such a long period of time during the Lankan innings. As mentioned earlier, there is nothing much in the pitch for the bowlers. Still, a lot of determination and mental application is needed for the amount of time the duo applied themselves. Their knocks were nearly flawless, and their class made good international bowlers from India look extremely ordinary. Both the spinners Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra were extremely insipid and Ishant Sharma did not do a lot to repay the faith the selectors have shown in him despite his disappointing efforts recently. Only Zaheer Khan made an impression, but without support even he was far from lethal expect for a few incisive spells.
A lot will now depend on how Gautam Gambhir and the remaining middle-order batsmen apply themselves. If India do manage to pull it off it will be a genuinely hard-fought effort.
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