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India struggling at Galle; Muttiah nears 800

Galle: Just how accurate are the current Test rankings? It is a fair question to ask as India limp into day five of this Test today seeking a face-saving draw without any genuine hope of doing so.

So good at home, often so hopeless away, even on the emerald isle, they are struggling here, at Galle International, despite four sessions lost to rain.

Breathing down their necks is Muttiah Muralitharan, looking for his 800th wicket to round off his Test career in style. He grabbed five in the first innings and managed a sixth this match in the second with the late dismissal of Yuvraj Singh.

It is a far from comfortable feeling as well. He is two short of that 800 mark when play closed for the day with India 181 for five in their follow on innings, and to be fair, three of his first innings wickets were contributed for his benefit by some injudicious strokeplay that bordered on the Kamikaze variety.

It was as if India were playing the enemy from within and they had lost the batting script somewhere.

Sachin Tendulkar in the first innings, as an example went on the sweep when he should have known better. Here was the rare sight of the highest run-scorer in Tests being dismissed by the leading bowler in what became Muralitharan’s 793rd wicket. It is the only time this has happened in recent history, as Shane Warne did not bowl to Brian Lara when he had most Test runs next to his name. Sir Alec Bedser though did dismiss Sir Donald Bradman in 1948 in what is an equivalent position at the time.

When Day Four closed yesterday, India were 63 runs adrift of Sri Lanka’s first innings of 520 for eight, declared. This would have perhaps been manageable, had Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar still been batting at the close. Both, however, became victims of playing high-risk strokes towards the end of the day with Lasith Malinga, the fast bowler with the slingshot action as India’s hopes of saving the game, or at least forcing Sri Lanka to bat again, were suddenly in serious doubts.

It could be said that it was a matter of over-confidence by both batsmen that led to their departures in a matter of 12 deliveries late afternoon and tells the story and as reality began seep through, India knew they were up against it.

If Dravid’s run out error in the first innings was major miscalculation, his second innings dismissal left doubts about the once solid The Wall’s ability to build an innings around his tight structured strokeplay. The flick off his hip when facing Malinga, and where he failed to keep the ball down as it flew to Kumar Sangakkara in a wide old-fashioned leg-slip.

Careless? Well, no doubt he thought the shot was on. The question is whether he checked to see if there was anyone lurking in that area. It has to be assumed he gambled that the ball would not carry, but it did and that was where India’s problems began all over again.

Tendulkar’s second lbw dismissal of the game was because he misjudged the length of the ball and it skidded through as he tried to work it away through the on-side with a flick.

Virender Sehwag defended his way of batting and said that of his 7000 Test runs, at lest 3000 have come from the cut shot. But his dismissal in the pre-lunch session was equally disastrous for India. He had reached his 20th Test century, and just as it was thought he could steer India past the follow on, he threw his bat out as if he was fly fishing: a nothing shot to a nothing delivery. It summed up India’s batting in the morning where in 25 minutes of madness they imploded.

It was the most horrendous display of batting from a team of professionals you are ever likely to see and yet again questions how India are one on the Test rankings.

After some doubts whether he could withstand the pressure of a Test, Malinga, used sparingly by his captain, Sangakkara has come through a trial that shows his worth to the Sri Lanka side and this is why the selectors and Sangakkara will feel justified in playing him in this Test. It will give him confidence for the second at least.

It is his three for 33 in nine overs of fast, cutting-edge type bowling which has kept Sri Lanka in with a chance to wrap this game up early on the fifth day. Certainly there was doubt whether he was capable of bowling at such pace for a lengthy spell. Doing so in short spells is important in Sri Lanka’s Test game plan for this series at least.

This has been confirmed by the Sri Lanka coach Trevor Bayliss who said that Malinga has now become the number one fast bowler.

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