Saturday, August 9, 2008

Sri Lanka build towards strong position

Zaheer Khan removed Michael Vandort, but Sri Lanka had the better of the first session on the second day.

Chaminda Vaas was the itch India could not scratch, as their bowlers failed to make serious inroads on an overcast morning despite the presence of encouraging movement for the pace bowlers. To make matters worse for them, Kumar Sangakkara seemed to have played himself in by lunch. The proceedings were slow to begin with, but Sri Lanka looked to have taken control of the game by lunch.

Vaas, the night-watchman, took ownership of the house on the second morning. To the penultimate ball last night, Vaas had refused a single, to ensure he did his job of shielding the specialist batsman. But on the second morning it was clear who looked the better batsman of the two. Michael Vandort played and missed, got drawn into shots, and finally fell lbw to one that came in from Zaheer Khan. Vaas at the other end never committed, didn't play anything he didn't need to, and irked the bowlers with his peculiar style of letting the ball go.

He repeatedly hid the bat behind pad, and made a pretence of playing at the ball - way inside the line. The bowlers would glare, pitching it closer to him with every delivery, and then, when the ball got close enough, Vaas would either cover-drive or square-drive. Zaheer eventually tried to bounce him, but Vaas rocked back and pulled him, rolling his wrists on it, and hitting him to the backward-square-leg boundary. The next ball was a higher, better-directed bouncer, which Vaas mis-hit but managed to land in the vacant area in front of square. Ishant tried a bouncer as well, which was met with another hooked boundary, and that was the end of the short-ball business.

The spinners, too, failed to make any impression on Vaas: he took three boundaries off Harbhajan Singh, all too easy, and kept turning Anil Kumble round the corner for easy singles. By lunch he had settled in, and at 39 was 10 short of becoming only the seventh man to achieve the double of 3000 runs and 300 wickets.

Sangakkara, who made a dicey start with an uppish boundary past a diving Rohit Sharma at point, seemed to be looking to make amends for his ordinary series. Twice previously, Zaheer had caught him in the crease, making him play at legcutters. This time, though, Sangakkara consciously kept getting on to the front foot, especially against Zaheer. Once he saw Zaheer off, there were no signs of struggle, and he was severe on anything loose.

A big chance arrived for India when Sangakkara, 34 then, edged a faster one from Kumble, but Rahul Dravid failed to latch on to what would have been a spectacular slip catch. To rub salt in, Sangakkara came up with an exquisite cover-drive off Harbhajan in the next over, overtaking Vaas' score. By lunch the two had added 72, with no real discomfort.