Sreesanth puts India on the threshold of victory


Sreesanth, staging a comeback after being in the wilderness for close to 18 months, snatched 5 for 75 in Sri Lanka's first innings and then drew first blood in the second innings leave the islanders in complete disarray.  With Sreesanth breathing fire, Sri Lanka's feeble first innings riposte wilted for 229, a whopping 413 runs behind the hosts' massive first innings total of 642. This was also India's highest first innings lead over the Lankans.

Following on, Sri Lankan top order collapsed again like a house of cards and the visitors finished the day at a precarious 57 for four with Angelo Mathews (2) and Thilan Samaraweera (1) in the middle. The islanders need to score another 356 runs to make India bat again.

Sreesanth was the pick of the Indian bowlers. The temperamental pacer, who played his last Test at the same venue in April last year against South Africa before slipping into relative obscurity, bent his back and hit the deck hard to walk away with all the honours on day three.  The Kerala speedster claimed the first wicket in Sri Lanka's second essay, removing Tillakaratne Dilshan (11) with an outswinger that kissed the blade before nestling into Mahendra Singh Dhoni's gloves.

Subsequently, Virender Sehwag trapped Tharanga Paranavitana (20), Mahela Jayawardene (10) ran himself out -- after Rahul Dravid had dropped him off Harbhajan Singh for the second time -- and Kumar Sangakkara (11) dragged a Harbhajan Singh delivery onto his stumps as Sri Lanka finished day three staring at a seemingly inevitable defeat.  It seemed the lacklustre Lankans began from where they had left it in the first innings. Their first innings reply was blighted by lack of partnerships. Tharanga Paranavitana (38) and Kumar Sangakkara (44) got the start but could not carry on.

Former captain Mahela Jayawardene (47) got two reprieves but could not really cash in on it, while Prasanna Jayawardene (39) too fell when his team needed him most.  Both Sangakkara and Paranavitana began with caution but with Sreesanth exploiting the early juice in the wicket, life was never easy for them.

Paranavitana thick edged Sreesanth for a streaky boundary but it was clear that he was in all sorts of trouble against the Kerala pacer, who bowled with venom, maintaining a probing line.  Paranavitana copped one on his body when he took his eyes off a bouncer and Sreesanth finally had him when the batsman poked at an away going delivery and Dhoni dived to his left to pouch a smart catch.

The same alacrity was, however, missing in the very next ball which came off new man in Mahela Jayawardene's blade and Dhoni did not even made an attempt as the ball raced through between him and Sachin Tendulkar at first slip.  Sangakkara could not gauge the slowness of the track and played a fractionally premature shot to drag the Sreesanth delivery onto his stumps and left shaking his head in disgust.  Another 10 runs on board and Sri Lanka were without the service of Samaraweera, whose exit was virtually a carbon copy of Sangakkara's dismissal.

Dhoni replaced Sreesanth with Harbhajan Singh and the offie responded by pushing his fifth delivery of the day through Angelo Mathews' (13) gate and clipping the bail.  Their top half blown away for 134, Sri Lankan could have been in deeper crisis but Rahul Dravid fluffed a catch after Jayawardene had edged Harbhajan.  The Jayawardenes had stitched together a massive 351-run partnership in the Motera shirtfront in Ahmedabad and the team required a similar effort. But the players with identical surnames could manage just 60 before Prasanna edged Sreesanth.

Mahela, on the other hand, could not make the most of the two lives he got and became Pragyan Ojha's first Test victim, chipping him to Sachin Tendulkar at mid on.  Sreesanth completed his five-wicket haul in the post-lunch session when Prasanna perished caught behind, his comeuppance for playing an ugly swish.  Ojha then trapped Muttiah Muralitharan to hasten the end and Harbhajan snared Chanaka Welegedara to drop curtains on the Sri Lankan innings.