Rahul Dravid struck his second consecutive century as India racked up a mammoth total and then made an early dent in the Sri Lankan top order to maintain their iron grip over the second Test on Wednesday.
In reply to India’s imposing first innings total of 642, the weary Sri Lankans signed off day two on 66 for one with the spectre of a follow-on looming large over them.
And they would have to accomplish the task without their most dangerous batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan, who was left to cool his heels in the hut with an unflattering golden duck against his name.
Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara (30) and Tharanga Paranavitana (30) were in the middle at stumps, their team still trailing India by a whopping 576 runs and they would return tomorrow with a mountain to climb.
Pummelled into ignoniminy on day one by Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, the Sri Lankans defied the docility of the track and the blazing Indian blades to restrict the hosts to 642 after tea with Dravid hogging the limelight with 144.
Resuming on 417 for two, India lost their last six wickets for a meagre 29 runs when the 700-mark was quite in sight.
The late collapse notwithstanding, it was a formidable batting display by the hosts with three centuries and two half centuries to boot. Among the top six batsmen, only Sachin Tendulkar (40) missed out on a half-century, such was India’s batting dominance.
Rahul Dravid hit a fluent 144 — his 28th ton — to overtake Allan Border (11,174) in the Test run accumulators’ chart. Dravid (11,182) now sits fourth in the list topped by Tendulkar (12,917).
His middle order colleague VVS Laxman hit an elegant 63, while Yuvraj Singh (67) survived some torrid moments against Muttiah Muralitharan to notch up his eighth fifty.
Herath (5-121) led Sri Lanka’s fightback, while his spin colleagues Ajantha Mendis (2-162) and Muralitharan (2-175) also chipped in to share the spoils.
While Indian openers laid the foundation for an awe-inspiring total with a 233-run stand, Sri Lanka’s reply could not have got off to a worst start.
The first ball sent down by Zaheer Khan proved a wicket-taking one and it was the prize scalp of Sri Lankan dangerman Tillakaratne Dilshan.
The maverick opener could only watch in horror as his leading edge ballooned up, allowing debutant Pragyan Ojha rush from mid-on to place himself beneath the ball.
Sangakkara and Paranavitana steadied the ship with a an unbeaten stand. Both showed their occasional feet of clay against Harbhajan Singh and survived umpteen LBW appeals but gamely hung on to fight for another day.
Looking at the totals, the Indians would be justified to feel it could have been healthier but it was a sterling display nonetheless by the Indian top and middle order. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir had set the tone with a blistering 233-run opening stand on first day and partnerships were not an issue with India either.
The second wicket stand yielded 137 runs while the next three were worth 94, 47 and 102 respectively.
The morning session lacked fireworks when Sehwag set alight the Green Park with some audacious power-hitting during his breathtaking 122-ball 131.
Resuming on 417 for two, Overnight batsmen Dravid and Tendulkar were content nudging and tapping along.
Tendulkar had his fair share of luck as well but he could not make it count.
On 29, Tendulkar chipped Ajantha Mendis and Tillakaratne Dilshan, hurling himself to left, almost pulled off a blinder before the ball popped out of his palm. Tendulkar then decided to counter-attacked and hit Mendis over his head for a neat six. Four balls later, Mendis had his revenge.
Tendulkar came sashaying down the track, only to chip it to Thilan Samaraweera at deep mid-off. By then, Dravid had reached his 28th Test century with a straight driven four off Chanaka Welegedara.
That achieved, a flurry of boundaries flew from Dravid’s blade as he punched Muralitharan through covers, played a delectable late cut off the wily offie, smacked Mendis over the top and then stepped out to hit Herath for a clean six.
New man in VVS Laxman also got into groove without a fuss but was lucky to survive a freak dismissal that cost Dravid his wicket.
Laxman uppishly drove Herath but the spinner could not latch on to the return catch. He did go for it but the ball ricocheted off his palm to hit the wicket with Dravid caught short of ground.
It was a sad end to Dravid’s 226-ball knock that included 15 hits to the fence besides a six.
Yuvraj’s vulnerability against quality spinner is well-documented and the left-hander looked ill at ease against Muralitharan. Yuvraj reckoned offence is the best defence and smote Mendis for a massive six to assert himself and then sent a Muralitharan delivery soaring over midwicket for a huge six.
Laxman also notched up his fifty with consummate ease but missed his century before Herath ran through the lower half of the Indian batting line-up.
So Laxman’s chip found Dilshan at mid-off, MS Dhoni failed to do any good to his average on a batting beauty like this and had his timbers rearranged. Harbhajan Singh’s (5) defence proved equally porous as Herath ghosted one through his gate.
Mendis chipped in in between and induced Yuvraj to a fatal pull that was intercepted by a leaping Kumar Sangakkara at midwicket.
Herath, meanwhile, was not through yet. The stocky left-arm spinner had Zaheer Khan caught in the slip before he trapped comeback man S Sreesanth plumb in front to complete his five-wicket haul.