Galle: Rahul Dravid, known by the menacing sobriquet The Wall, had a rare moment of doubt yesterday and in part his dismissal has fractured India’s top-order fortifications here at Galle International.
His run out for 18 at a crucial juncture of the Indian innings left the tourists struggling when they were cruising to stabilise their response to Sri Lanka’s first innings impressive first innings total of 520 for eight, declared.
Dravid’s undoing was gambling in trying to steal a risky second run off Angelo Mathews bowling in the 13th over of the innings. It has now left a gaping hole in India’s normally sound top-order defence mechanism, as with six sessions of this first Test remaining, Sri Lanka are the only side capable of winning this opening game of the series.
This is the harsh reality that the tourists face today, as at the close of day three Tuesday, they were 140 for three and 380 adrift of the Sri Lanka total. More worrying for India is the fitness of Virender Sehwag, who seemed to be overcome with cramps, which is one of the problems that afflicted him during the Asia Cup before he went back to New Delhi and required the selectors to rush their favoured replacement, Dinesh Karthik to fill the gap.
The Dravid dismissal when the total was 68 for one came when Lasith Malinga misfielded the ball at mid-off to where Sehwag had driven the ball. The pair completed the single comfortable and it looked okay until, after a moment’s hesitation, Dravid set off only to find that he was struggling to make his ground in attempting a second run.
It was Malinga’s return to Mathews, the bowler who was backing up, that found a chink in The Wall’s normal reinforced armoured plating and his annoyance with himself was palpable as he walked off.
It was the risk factor that he needed to quickly to assess as he turned, with Sehwag was also eyeing the fieldsman and the position of the state of play. Sehwag knew the moment the appeal went up and Dravid short of the crease as Daryl (I make No Mistakes) Harper raised his right arm and the tragedy India didn’t need at such an early stage of their innings occurred.
Sehwag was hunched over his bat, willing himself not to look at the scoreboard and the disaster, as this left India with Sachin Tendulkar arriving all too soon in the inning for India’s comfort. For when Tendulkar departed eight overs later, lbw to give man of the hour Muttiah Muralitharan his 793rd Test wicket, erosion of confidence in the innings can still become a psychological factor.
Going on the sweep, which is always a risky shot at the best of times when facing someone as cunning as Muralitharan. Bowling from the town end, especially with the ball skidded through off the pitch, the Tendulkar departure has left the tourists struggling and in need of a big partnership between Sehwag and Vangipurappu Laxman on the fourth day.
This was after a remarkable morning when Ishant Sharma finally found his length and Tharanga Paranavithana fell into the old trap of shuffling and getting the edge, for Mahendra Sing Dhoni to complete a simple catch. The opener was dismissed for 111, which also happens to be his team Test membership number, but he should have learnt to bat with more circumspection so early in the day’s play. His failure to move his feet has led to his downfall in the past.
While India pulled together a better bowling performance before lunch, the intensity fell apart during an partnership between Rangana Herath and Malinga, adding an imposing and important 115 run partnership for the eight wicket with both batsmen scoring their maiden Test half centuries at run rate in excess of five an over at times.
It exposed India’s thin bowling resources this series and left the side struggling to keep momentum after restricting Sri Lanka to 393 for seven with five wickets falling for 134 runs, which kept India in the hunt.
Herath, undefeated at 80 at the innings closure during the tea interval argued strongly how Sri Lanka are in command in this Test.
“The way I see it we (Sri Lanka) are on top now,’ he commented. “The idea is to try and among the wickets in the morning, possibly three to put them under pressure. If we can prevent India from avoiding the follow-on total (with the loss of one day, the follow on is now 371), we can certainly look at winning the game.”
He agree that Sehwag is the danger man and that Sri Lanka would need to get his wicket early on if there was a chance of winning the game.
“If we can get his wicket early on, we are in the game,” he added. “Both Laxman and Sehwag batted really well, but at the same time our bowlers have also done well, too. The first hour is crucial.”