India were on the threshold of becoming the number one team in Test rankings as they closed in on an emphatic victory in the third and final Test against Sri Lanka despite captain Kumar Sangakkara’s gritty unbeaten century on Saturday.
After conceding a mammoth 333-run first innings lead, the visitors were struggling at 274 for six at close on the penultimate day which was marked by Sangakkara’s resilient unbeaten 133 under immense pressure.
The Lankans are still trailing by 59 runs at the end of the day and will have to bat out of their skins to achieve the near-impossible task of saving the game on a last-day Brabourne track which was expected to assist the bowlers.
The Indians, on the other hand, will look to wrap up the remaining four wickets quickly on Sunday and clinch the three-match Test series with a 2-0 margin.
Sangakkara and Nuwan Kulasekara (9) were at the crease at stumps on an absorbing fourth day’s play which saw a keen contest between the bat and the ball.
The Sri Lankan captain Sangakkara notched up his 21st Test century, his maiden one in India, to anchor the innings brilliantly but none of the other top order batsmen could stitch a substantial partnership with him to save the visitors.
Sri Lanka’s hopes of staving off defeat entirely rest on Sangakkara who has to bat out the entire day alongwith the tailenders or take a big enough lead which will take the game out of India’s grasp.
The Sri Lankan captain, who had never scored even a half century in India, began cautiously but played some delightful strokes at the fag end of the day.
Resuming at the overnight score of 11 for no loss, the Lankans needed a solid start from their openers but that did not happen.
The home team struck a major blow in the ninth over when Dilshan (16) was sent back through a dubious umpiring decision.
The right-hander, who was unlucky to be given out when in full bloom at 109 in the first innings, suffered at the hands of the umpires for the second time in the match as he offered no shot to a sharply spinning ball from Harbhajan Singh that was also rising after pitching.
TV replays suggested the ball was not only missing the leg stump but was also climbing above the bails but Daryl Harper thought otherwise after an animated appeal by the bowler and his teammates.
In the first innings, Nigel Long was the umpire who declared Dilshan out caught at short leg, again off Harbhajan, when the ball seemed to have gone off his pads without touching the bat.
It also brought together two left-handers Paranavitana and Sangakkara to the crease who remained unconquered at the lunch break.
The second wicket duo eschewed risks so the scoring rate fell to under three an over and the first hour’s play realised only 37 runs in 14 overs.
Sangakkara and Paranavitana raised the 50 of the innings in the 19th over and after 81 minutes of play since last evening.
Sreesanth got the first break for the home team after lunch by sending back opener Paranavitana in his first over of a fresh spell as Lanka slumped from 119 for one to 137 for four.
Zaheer, brought back for a new spell from the Churchgate end, sent back Mahela Jayawardene (12) and Thilan Samaraweera (0) in the space of 15 balls for one run.
And just as the visitors were hoping to go into tea without further loss, Ojha turned a ball across the face of all rounder Angelo Mathews’ bat and India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni accepted the edge.
Sreesanth and Zaheer delivered the blows in the very first overs of their new spells in the post-lunch period to send back Paranavitana and former Lanka skipper Mahela Jayawardene respectively.
Sreesanth, getting some reverse-swing, brought a ball back into Paranavitana who injudiciously tried to play it to leg and was trapped plumb in front after striking eight fours in 144 balls. His partnership with Sangakkara was worth 90 in 220 balls.
Sangakkara and Jayawardene, who scored 275 in the opening drawn Test at Ahmedabad, forged together a stand of 16 runs before India struck three quick blows to bring the visitors on to their knees.
Zaheer sent back Mahela when the batsman poked at a ball that moved away a shade and edged behind the wicket for Dhoni to take an easy catch.
Then the left-arm pacer induced an edge from Samaraweera (0) which was caught at second slip by Venkatasai Laxman to leave Lanka tottering at 137 for four.
Ojha then struck another blow by having Mathews caught at the wicket.
Prasanna Jayawardene and his captain Sangakkara took the score past 200 before Ojha struck again by getting rid of Prasanna, trapping him leg before wicket.