Thursday, August 5, 2010


Just how much the ever-bustling Virender Sehwag will influence the outcome of this third Test is likely to unfold on day four at Saravanamuttu Oval.

By his own admission, he has no fondness for the boring game. The sort of game that Sri Lanka's captain Kumar Sangakkara has tried to force on India in this Test, knowing his 1-0 lead, it can end in a 1-1 shared series.

Sangakkara admitted as much on the second afternoon of the Test when he tried to have Chanaka Welegedara bowl a useless line wide of the off-stump and left the Delhi batsman stranded on 97 overnight. Sehwag duly collected his 21st Test century on the third morning and would have been looking for more fun off the Sri Lanka bowling.

It is his galloping runrate and an ability to scare captains into adopting defensive tactics that inspires the rest of his teammates. While he refused to fall into the trap set by Sangakkara on the second day, his one mistake on the third morning in trying to drive over mid-off ended with a catch greeted with uproarious glee by the locals. The irony was his effort to pick up two wickets at the close as Sri Lanka was edged by 11 runs on the first innings, with India scoring 436 in reply to 425.

It was interesting tactics by Sangakkara. Here he was 200 runs ahead - with Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar both departing before the first drinks break - and bowling to defensive fields, applying bowling tactics to try and slow the run rate as he knows too well how his bowling attack is under pressure. It is typical of a captain who knows that apart from one bowler, Lasith Malinga, he has no one really to win matches.

And this is where the jingoistic claim for Sri Lanka to mount a challenge for No. 1 Test ranking is as flawed as their restructured bowling. And Ajantha Mendis, gifted two wickets in the drawn fiasco at SSC last week to earn four, gave away 109 for his two wickets this time. This is the man that was suggested to be the new Muttiah Muralitharan.

As Tendulkar explained in the second Test, the Mendis factor no longer existed in current Sri Lanka conditions, certainly not with India's marauding batsmen prepared to take him on.

He has wilted as such and his six wickets at 46.83 explain just how much he has been tamed.

All we have to look at here is how the lower Indian order pulled together an intriguing rearguard that on the last tour didn’t exist, as Muralitharan and Mendis taunted and terrified all but Sehwag.

Stepping into the breach is the former Karnataka discus thrower Abhimanyu Mithun. Instead of aspiring to win a gold medal in this event at the Commonwealth Games, he is turning into the all-rounder that Gary Kirsten is hoping will help India’s cause in next year’s World Cup.

Sure his five wickets so far have been costly at an average of 72.40, but he has been useful and is developing as promising talent on tour.

“What we need is an all-rounder who should be able to make a positive contribution to the team. Irfan was the person whom we had earmarked but probably he lacked this on the bowling side,” Kirsten said in Galle 18 days ago.

So, up steps Mithun, stitching together a lower-order performance to remember. First it was with the captain MS Dhoni and then Amit Mishra, to add 93 for the seventh and eighth wickets.

When Suresh Raina departed for 62, with the total on 321, hopes of India even going past Sri Lanka’s 425 looked remote. But as Mithun showed in Galle with some rearguard defiance in the follow-on innings, he was not going to surrender his wicket. This despite a barrage of short stuff from Lasith Malinga who earned three for 119 and in the process ended with a career tally of 100 wickets in his 30th Test.

Mithun took a few knocks as well, as Malinga tried to knock over the lower order but failed, and slapped the ball into the gap for one of his five boundaries.

Now approaching 21, the lanky Bangalore new-ball bowler and surprise choice as Ishant Sharma’s partner to open India’s attack on this additional Test tour of the emerald isle has also put more runs on the board than state teammate Rahul Dravid. 'The Wall' has 88 runs from four innings with a top-score of 44 and again not a happy tour record of the island.

Along comes the rookie Mithun whose top score of 46 here at the P. Sara Oval on Thursday helped India grab a narrow first innings lead in the third Test, as he pushed his tour total of runs to 120 and an average of 30.00. Sure, his wicket-taking strike rate hasn’t been what you would call Dev’s pace – five at an average of 72.40 – but he has been useful and he is developing as a player on tour.

Ray Jennings, coach of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, liked what he saw in the youngster and no doubt, apart from Mithun’s Ranji record and 47 wickets last season, passed on the message to Gary Kirsten that there was an all-rounder in the making.

As for Malinga, talking through an interpreter, he argued how bowling a bit short at Indian batsmen was the best tactic to employ and why he bowled it more often.

He also expressed satisfaction at joining bowlers such as Chaminda Vaas and Muralitharan in taking 100 wickets to join a select band of Sri Lanka bowlers.

“I have been subjected to injuries in the last one and a half years and that prevented me from taking more Test wickets,” he commented. “Now I am back in the game and to collect a hundred Test wickets is a big encouragement.”

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