India in tatters in Colombo Test (Lunch Report)

July 26th, 2008 - 3:27 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Harbhajan Singh
By Rex Clementine
Colombo, July 26 (IANS) India were looking down the barrel after Sri Lanka packed them off for 223 in their first innings, enforced a follow and took a second innings wicket in the first cricket Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground here Saturday. At lunch on the fourth day, India were 25 for one with Gautam Gambhir unbeaten on 12 and with five more sessions to go. It would be a huge ask for India to save the Test from here as they stare at a deficit of 352 runs.

The tourists needed to make 400 to avoid being asked to follow on, but they never recovered after a top-order collapse and finished 377 runs behind the hosts in the first innings. Muthiah Muralitharan (5-84) and debutant Ajantha Mendis (4-72) proved to be India’s nemesis.

India faced seven overs in the second innings and problems compounded as Muralitharan struck with his sixth wicket in the match.

Asked to bowl the last over before lunch, Murali struck in his fourth ball when Virender Sehwag shouldered arms to a top spinner. On-field umpire Mark Benson ruled it not out, but after Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene asked for the television referral Sehwag was ruled out lbw.

The dismissal was debatable as it was clear from the replays that the ball had brushed the front leg first, which was outside the leg stump, before deviating and hitting the back pad.

Muralitharan was the chief destroyer in India’s first innings, claiming five for 84. He now has 64 five-wicket hauls, easily a world record. This is his sixth five wicket haul against the Indians.

Debutant Ajantha Mendis also had a good start to his Test career, returning figures of four for 72.

This was the first time Sri Lanka had forced India to follow on in Test cricket since the teams began their rivalry in 1985.

India had last followed on in a Test five years ago, against New Zealand in Mohali and had managed to save the Test.

Resuming at the overnight score of 159 for six, the Indians lost three quick wickets and were reduced to 188 for nine.

The referral system was used once again when Indian captain Anil Kumble wanted further clarification by umpires after he was ruled out lbw by umpire Billy Doctrove. There was some confusion as Kumble had been under the impression that he was given out caught bat pad, but television replays indicated that he was leg before wicket to Mendis.

Harbhajan Singh became Muralitharna’s fifth victim when he misread the off-spin anticipating the doosra and lunged forward at the last moment. The ball took the inside edge and popped up to be picked up by the short leg fielder.

Mendis came on and picked up the next two wickets. He got Zaheer Khan leg before wicket and V.V.S. Laxman, who was the last man to be out.

There was some stubborn resistance by the Indian last pair as Ishant Sharma gave solid support to the established Laxman. The pair batted for over one hour adding 35 runs for the last wicket much to the embarrassment of the top order batsmen, who had not shown any application.

Laxman was foxed by a Mendis googly that went through the gate and crashed onto the stumps.

His half-century was the only highlight in the Indian first innings. The Indian number six made his 34th Test fifty and was out for 56 in 118 balls with six boundaries.

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