Sanga falls for 18 as Sri Lanka chase record target

Daily Mirror — August 23, 2015

India extended their control of the second Test against Sri Lanka, setting the hosts a record run chase and then prising two of their top three batsmen — including the wicket of Kumar Sangakkara, in his final international innings for 18.

Indian captain Virat Kohli refrained from showing the ‘aggression’ he promised as captain, playing it safe to prolong India’s inevitable declaration till they had amassed a lead of 412 — what would be a record chase in Sri Lanka if the hosts get there. At stumps on day four Sri Lanka found themselves still 341 runs adrift, on 72 for 2, and in all likelihood discussing how to bat out tomorrow’s 90 overs to save the game, more than to win it.

The expectant local crowd would have been hoping to witness another ‘Sanga — special’, and his entry came a lot quicker than they would have hoped for when Kaushal Silva picked out the short-midwicket fielder Stuart Binny in the third over, bowled by Ravichandran Ashwin, for one.

Like a glitch in the Matrix, Sangakkara again walked out to a guard of honour by students of his alma mater and the Indian cricket team, just like when he came out to bat on the second day, but there was no deja vu in how he started his innings, working the first ball he faced neatly down the legside.

He survived an early mix-up almost finding himself at the same end as his partner Dimuth Karunaratne, but had enough time to get back after Ashwin failed to cleanly gather the ball.

But he again failed to build on his start, when, just like the first innings, he lunged forward to an Ashwin delivery, which flew off the edge of his bat to Murali Vijay at slip — the fourth successive innings that Ashwin accounted for his wicket.

While Sri Lankan supporters would have hoped his innings lasted more than just the 19 deliveries — or at least matched the number 84 embossed on his shirt — he walked off to a standing ovation and almost apologetic handshakes from the Indian cricketers, his stock as lucrative as ever — perhaps to the relief of employers who would have run the risk of low worker turn out, had Sangakkara’s innings carried over to tomorrow.

Sangakkara’s 12,400 runs sees him finish as the fifth highest run getter in Test history, and with an average of 57.40, the highest amongst batsmen over the threshold of 5,000 runs. After Sangakkara’s dismissal, Sri Lanka found solidity in Karunaratne and Angelo Mathews, who were unbeaten on 25 and 23 respectively — the longevity of this partnership likely to decide the result of the game.

Fourth day’s play started with India in command having lost just one wicket the previous evening and bulking up their lead to 157 at stumps on day three. That lead was extended by another 68 runs within the first hour of play, as the overnight batsmen Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane continued unperturbed, both reaching their half-centuries in that time — Vijay reached his 11th fifty in the seventh over of the day, before Rahane reached his, two overs later with a reverse sweep boundary against Tharindu Kaushal. Vijay was particularly aggressive — his two sixes to the deep-midwicket boundary a good enough indication as any — scoring 40 of those runs as India worked their way towards a declaration.

A drinks break taken after that hour helped Sri Lanka get back into the game soon after, when Kaushal, bowling around the wicket, had a sweeping Vijay trapped in front, the ball pitching and straightening just enough to convince umpire Bruce Oxenford that it would go on to hit the stumps.

Kaushal struck in similar fashion — Sri Lanka’s only other bright spot of the first session — shortly before lunch having Kohli defending on his back foot, to dismiss the Indian captain leg before wicket for 10. India went on to reach the break on 179 for the loss of three, which stretched their lead at that stage to 266.

Kohli’s wicket proved to be the last for a significant period of time — it was more than 20 overs before the next wicket fell — as India exerted their dominance on the game and continued extending their lead, albeit slowly, with little to no resistance from the hosts. Rahane reached his fourth Test century in the 11th over of the second session — a period during which Rahane and Rohit Sharma were happy knocking the ball into gaps and running instead of forcing boundaries.

Mathews persisted with Kaushal — bowling him from the Tennis Court End for 23 successive overs since he was called on to bowl in the seventh over of the day, with bowlers being shuffled at the other end — and he dismissed both batsmen in quick succession. First, he had Sharma caught on the deep-midwicket boundary, the patrolling fielder Jehan Mubarak taking it assuredly, and then the centurion, who got a faint edge to keeper Dinesh Chandimal.

Binny walked in and showed his hand straight away with a boundary, and scored two more, taking India to tea on 283 for 5, with a 370-run lead.

Prasad struck with the first delivery after tea, the second over with the new ball, getting the ball to seam away from Binny, who helped it on to Lahiru Thirimanne at slip. After a slew of runs, Prasad had Ravichandran Ashwin caught behind for 19 — his innings including a six and a four that few off the top edge to the long stop boundary.

Prasad took his fourth wicket when Amit Mishra picked out Mubarak at leg slip, India 318 at that stage, with Kohli waving his team in seven runs later.

Saha retired hurt on five, only to return with the wicket of Ashwin. That return proved costly for India as Saha re-aggravated the hamstring injury that saw him retire hurt in the first place, subsequently ruling him out from keeping in the final innings, with Lokesh Rahul taking over as keeper.


Originally published at www.wisdenindia.com on August 23, 2015.

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