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August 15, 2001
1825 IST

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Jayasuriya ton puts Lanka on top

Prem Panicker

Here are some figures for you to consider: 17, 0, 26, 8, 0, 16, 16, 14, 9, 0, 45, 23.

Those, in case you are wondering, are Sanath Jayasuriya's scores in his last 12 Test innings. And cumulatively, they present the picture of a man struggling for form and confidence.

When you get such a batsman opposing you, you turn on the screws -- ask Saurav Ganguly, who has lately been on the receiving end of such treatment from all opposition, he'll tell you how it works.

India went the other way. And managed, through rank bad bowling, to bat the Lankan captain back into form.

Opposing teams have worked out that if you can stifle Jayasuriya and deny him width, he is easy to tuck out. India for its part has figured out that if you bowl nice and wide outside off stump, he will happily square cut you to death.

Check out this bunch of figures: At tea, Jayasuriya was unbeaten on 105 off 121 balls. 77 of those balls were not scored off. His innings at that point contained 15 fours plus a square cut six off Srinath. And -- this is the real clincher -- 48 runs came off the square cut, including 8 fours and the six. If you want to really rub it in, add 23 more runs including 4 boundaries in the arc between third man and point, and you find that 71 out of 105 were given away outside off stump. As opposed to this, 9 runs square on the on, 2 runs through mid off, and not a single run through the V on the on side.

One final set of figures: Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, who have seen more of Jayasuriya than any other pair of bowlers around the world and who, therefore, should be expected to know what line to bowl and what to eschew, had between them given away 97 runs in 19 overs at tea. Here again, Srinath bowled 22 deliveries to Jayasuriya at that point, and was taken for 30 runs. Prasad -- the bowler who in four previous Tests against Lanka has 4 wickets at over 100 runs per wicket, prompting chairman of selectors Chandu Borde to assure us that he is just the right bowler for Lankan conditions -- for his part bowled 25 balls to the Lankan captain, and was taken for 32.

Not to put too fine a point on it, India's two most experienced bowlers are, in the final analysis, the reason why India in all probability will lose this Test.

Doing a pitch report on the Galle track must be akin, increasingly, to surveying the site of a potential homicide.

There are nasty little patches on the good length spot for both left-handers and right-handers. There are areas where the turf is peeling off. There is loose top soil, making the dust kick up off the deck. All told, it is the kind of track on which you don't want to face halfway decent bowling.

Pre-lunch session

For an all too brief while, the morning session promised to have features of interest.

Saurav Ganguly has, not to mince words, been struggling with the bat during his captaincy. The figures tell a tale -- in 35 Tests as a player, the Indian left-hander hit a highest of 173 and averaged a very healthy 45.55. In 9 Tests as captain, by way of contrast, he has a highest of 84 and an average of 27.17. That he has, in the same time, won more Tests than he has lost is of course the other half of the story.

Today, the southpaw skipper seemed to get as close to his best form as we have seen lately -- against two good seam bowlers operating with a new-ish ball, he was nicely behind the line to even the lifters, and batted with calm assurance.

But of late, Ganguly has been Fortune's Fool -- if anything can go wrong, it will. Dilhara Fernando put one on a good length spot outside off. The ball kicked like a mule, climbing in a fashion that would have had any batsman in trouble. Ganguly did very well to drop his wrists, and sway his upper body away from the line. Sangakkara behind the sticks climbed a ladder to pull the ball down, the slips went up in appeal, the bowler half-heartedly joined in -- and the umpire upheld it.

Later in the same over, Fernando made another one kick and rapped Srinath a painful blow on the hand. The Indian seamer hung around for the rest of the over, but then walked off for treatment and never came back.

Harbhajan drove one from Fernando crisply through cover, but the tall Lankan pace bowler angled one in on leg stump later in the same over. Attempting to make room to drive on the off, Harbhajan was beaten for pace and line, the ball hitting the pad and ricocheting onto the stumps to have India 181/7.

In his next over, Fernando completed a five wicket haul with another kicker off a length. The ball reared, Dighe went under but left his bat sticking up periscope-like, the ball clipped the back of the upraised bat on its way through and Sangakarra did another passable imitation of a leaping trout going after a fly to reduce India to 185/8.

Venkatesh Prasad walked out as last man, and Muralitharan took all of three balls to perform the last rites. Two off breaks, the third ball going through straight with the arm and Prasad, one of nature's number 11s, played inside the line to have the ball go past the bat and onto his off stump.

The Indian innings lasted 95.3 overs. 11.3 of those overs were bowled this morning -- and India lost 4 wickets for 24 runs. Fernando, with 5/42, was the pick of the bowlers while Muralitharan did his bit with a three wicket haul.

India in the final analysis was a good 150 runs short of what would have been a winning score on this track. And the tourists compounded their own batting errors by opening with Venkatesh Prasad, whose slow medium came nicely into the slot for Sanath Jayasuriya. India had registered the first boundary of its innings in the 28th over -- Jayasuriya got Lanka's first, against Prasad, in the second over of the innings and then followed up with three fours in a subsequent over of the same bowler.

For his part, Srinath continued to bemuse. Any pace bowler worth his new ball would, on a track like this, have banged one down first up, made the batsman hop a couple more times and, right in his first over, told the batsman who was boss. Srinath for his part ambled in, with a complete lack of fire and aggression, and bowled a good two feet outside leg stump, presenting the batsmen no problems whatever.

Zahir and Harbhajan got an over apiece ahead of lunch, which was taken with Lanka on 44/0, powered by 29 off 27 balls from Jayasuriya while Atapattu, as per usual, preferred to anchor.

Post-lunch session

What India needed was one incisive burst of bowling immediately after lunch. What it got, was some pedestrian stuff from Zahir Khan, who seemed infused with the lethargy that had gripped Srinath and Prasad in the morning.

It's a funny thing about bowling sides -- Clive Lloyd once, in course of a casual chat, mentioned that he loved those rare instances when the West Indies were bundled out for a low score. "Maan, it was good fun to stand in the slips and see our bowlers go -- they figured if we could be bowled out for 200, they could bowl any opposition out for half of that."

The Indian bowling traditionally swings to the other extreme -- if the side is bundled out for a low score, the bowlers seem to figure it is all over anyway so why bother?

India, as mentioned earlier, batted Jayasuriya back into form. The Lankan skipper hasn't had a 50 in his last 12 innings -- here, he was given, gift-wrapped, a run a ball century. Come to think of it, after watching today's performance, I find it easier to understand why Jayasuriya's overall career average is 39.17, while his average against India is 78.20.

Harbhajan was India's only solace -- but though the offie bowled out of his skin, and unchanged, at one end, the fact that runs were coming run a ball at the other end meant the Lankan batsmen could play him watchfully. In fact, at tea Srinath was going at 4.8 per over, Prasad was going at 5.5 -- and Harbhajan was going at 1.9, which really tells you the story.

Lanka brought up its 100 in the 27th over, with Atapattu batting 33 to Jayasuriya's 61. And the pitch devils remained dormant -- not because they weren't there, but because India's pace bowlers were content to go through the motions, on the kind of track where they should have been bending their backs.

Harbhajan it was who got the breakthrough. A ball pushed through faster, and turning more sharply, beat the defensive push of Marvan Atapattu (33 off 95 balls), got the pad, then ricocheted off the glove to Mohammad Kaif at silly point, and Lanka were 101/1 in the 28th over.

Sangakaara, in at number three, slipped into the anchor role. And lapsed once, before tea, when he cut at a Harbhajan Singh straighter one, Dravid reacted brilliantly at slip to take it on the right, where he was blinded by his keeper, but couldn't cling on. Lanka at that point were 157/1.

Meanwhile, Jayasuriya went on, and on. And on. His 8th Test hundred, and first in almost a year, came off just 105 balls. The 50 of the second wicket partnership came off 54 balls -- and Sangakarra contributed a mere 8 of those runs.

117 runs came in the session, as Lanka went in to tea on 161/1, still 26 behind India with wickets in hand. Jayasuriya walked back unbeaten on 105 off 120 while Sangakaara scored 11 off 29 balls.

Post-tea session

Zahir Khan and Harbhajan Singh resumed for India after tea -- and with the offie producing a probing maiden for starters, Zahir at the other end hit the right length and line and finally, put paid to Jayasuriya. In the 45th over, Zahir first beat the batsman -- and the stumps -- with a beautiful incutter, then bent his back to slam one down on a length around off. Jayasuriya -- like Ganguly this morning -- could do little about the ball. Unlike Ganguly, Jayasuriya actually touched it with the high part of the bat, and Dravid at slip made no mistake on the simple take. Jayasuriya had made 111 (138 balls) of the 171 runs (for two wickets) Lanka had on the board at that stage.

With Sangakaara (21 off 68) content to anchor, Mahela Jayawardene (20 off 21) walked into the aggressor's role vacated by Jayasuriya, and when a sharp shower stopped play in the 53rd over, Lanka were 199/2, 12 runs ahead on the first innings with 8 wickets in hand.

When play resumed, Jayawardene (28 off 30) attempted to get into overdrive. Unfazed by missing a couple of lavish shots earlier in the over (the 55th), he went after another nothing ball outside of his off stump and managed to touch it through to give Dighe a hold and, more importantly, Srinath a wicket to justify his existence.

Russel Arnold and Sangakaara then settled down to play patience, waiting on their wickets, taking advantage of any loose bowling, and gradually building the Lankan score up to winning proportions. Sangakaara got his 5th Test half century (126 balls) and simultaneously brought up the 50 of the 4th wicket partnership (93 balls) with a flicked four through midwicket off Prasad. And as you watched the ball race over the turf, you couldn't help thinking that this was the main difference between the two teams -- the Lankan bowlers gave very few four-balls to the Indians (8 fours in the entire innings), who in their turn, gave away far too many (32 so far and counting) and, in the process, ensured that the home side could bat with no pressure on them.

Light was offered with five overs yet to be bowled, and the Lankan batsmen walked away, with an unbeaten 53 run partnership against their name. More to the point, Lanka ended day two 77 runs ahead of India, with 7 wickets in hand -- ensuring that at least one result, a Lankan defeat, has been effectively ruled out.

Detailed Scorecard

Read also: Day one match report