Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gold digging

The third biggest oil field in the US is hidden in plain sight. Where is it, you ask? It is the city of Los Angeles itself! I will probably never get to see the city, but I am sure there are many among us who will. Some of you may even know the places where the rigs are, as indicated in this spell-binding video.

(Link courtesy: BrandX)

The hunt

Nothing, I repeat, NOTHING beats Nature. And this BBC video shows just another reason why. The camera work is top-notch, the suspense is real, and the pay-off is spectacular.

Sunday night thoughtful

1) I have seen the future of Pakistani batting and his name is Umar Akmal. What impressed me about his debut performance (129 and 75) was not the audacious first innings when he helped take the team score from 85 for 5 to 293 before he got out. It was the second inning when, from 24 for 3 until 195, he stood between the Kiwis and a Test win. He played more balls and batted longer in the second innings but oozed calm and class all the way through. The Kiwis put 5 guys on the fence to stem the boundaries and Akmal adjusted, taking what he could. In the first innings he had 21 fours and 2 sixes compared to just 5 fours and 1 six in the second. He showed me that he could adjust his game and not throw it away. More importantly, he has the temperament for a scrap and should be around for a long time to come.

Osman Samiuddin tries to balance hyperbole with pragmatism in his column on CricInfo that talks about Akmal and where he is headed. Pakistan cricket is replete with stories of folks who have made it on a whim and a recommendation. While I am sure being Kamran's brother opened a few doors for Umar, what he has done with that opportunity of his own doing alone.
He worked his way up from junior level inter-city and district cricket, played and performed for Pakistan at Under-19 level and on Academy tours and spent a season wowing people for SNGPL domestically. When he got called up earlier this year to the national side, it was after he had hit three hundreds on an A team tour to Australia, against bowlers like Shaun Tait and Doug Bollinger.
2) When the India-Sri Lanka series began, the BCCI selectors threw a curveball by announcing a 15-member team with Murali Vijay as the 15th player. It is now clear why they did so - they knew Gautam Gambhir would be missing the third Test in order to attend his sister's wedding. Since Vijay is already in the squad, it is now a straightforward substitution, as opposed to having to draft from outside the squad in which case the opener with the hottest hand would have to be chosen and it might not have been Vijay. Somewhere, Srikkanth is pouring himself a cold one to celebrate his foresight and tactical nous.

This is not to say I don't think Murali Vijay can cut it. The last time India needed a replacement opener, he stepped into the breach against Australia and had two proper partnerships with Sehwag (98 runs and 116 runs). His best moment in the match, though, was running out Matthew Hayden in the first innings when the big man mistook him for Sourav Ganguly and took off for a sharp single to mid-off.

3) I saw Ninja Assasin and The Blind Side back-to-back this weekend. The reviews shall follow later, but let me just say that I needed one to wash off the memories of the other!

4) The mantle has passed in the NFL and the devil has found a new person to deal with. Leaving Kurt Warner and Tom Brady behind, a new agreement has been signed with Brett Favre. 24 TD's to just 3 interceptions after 11 games?!! Who is this new 40-year old? The Devil did not go down to Georgia, he went down to Gulfport, Mississippi instead.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The best medicine

My admiration for Roger Federer is no secret. Apart from being the most gifted tennis player I have ever seen, by all accounts he is also just a great guy. Here's further proof of just how normal and regular he is. (The link does not seem to come with embedding text, so you will have to click on it to see the video).


You know exactly where this is headed within seconds, but the ending is still hilarious. What goes around, comes around...

Helping hand

Australia defeated an overmatched West Indies team by an innings and some runs. Adrian Barath helped himself to that inevitability - a blazing century in a lost cause. The fact that he did it on debut augers well for him. (However, his style of batting does not convince me yet that he can last long playing the way he does. I hope he proves me wrong but he will need to tighten his off-side play to have a long career).

Sachin Tendulkar's followers are anxious that Ricky Ponting has 10 Tests in the coming year, to just 3 for Tendulkar. Luckily for them, Ponting scored 55 and got out to the only weakness he really has - the good-length ball that just leaves him squared up during his forward thrust.

The innings defeat has shown one thing - the West Indian batting (or lack thereof it) may be the best defense that SRT has going for him in stopping Ponting from overtaking him!

Maggie Noodle Review - New Moon

Reviewing a movie like New Moon is not an easy task. Based on the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer, it is the second installment in the love story of Isabella "Bella" Swan and Edward Cullen. Bella is a morose, klutzy, unenthusiastic teenager who has recently moved to her father's town in Washington (the state). At school she runs into the Cullens, a group of stylish, haughty, and aloof kids. Something isn't quite right about them, but Bella does not care one bit, developing a fascination for Edward.

In Twilight, she found out their secret - the Cullens are vampires. Not your traditional long-fanged, flying through the air, killed-by-garlic-and-crosses vampires, but vampires nevertheless. In New Moon, she finds out that vampires are not the only strange things lurking in Forks, WA. There are werewolves to contend with, too. And Bella, if not anything, is consistent in that she is attracted to them, too. Or at least to one of them, Jacob Black. So what was a love story of the forbidden kind (vampire and human) is now a love triangle of the awkward kind, since vampires and werevolves are mortal enemies, wouldn't you know it?

Already I have told you a lot of the story without telling you anything. There are a whole bunch of "rules" and "explanations" and other stuff that goes on in the books, and obliquely, in the movie. The movie stays fairly true to the book, within boundaries, and is actually quite engrossing once you stop thinking about it. I went in prepared to cringe my way through it. (Full disclosure: I own the whole series so I have already read all 4 books). After a few minutes, I stopped worrying about the target audience and the pseudo-heaviness of the character's problems. Like all romance stories, this one also survives because characters talk in half-sentences and do not articulate their feelings. If they would only spend five minutes clearing the air then there would be no story. So misunderstandings are the order of the day.

I got swept along in the enthusiasm of the crowd and the earnestness with which the actors were portraying their roles and came out enjoying it more than I should really care to admit. I may not stay awake at night dreaming of Bella, but I am curious to see whether the glimpses of life the actress (Kristin Stewart) shows are the real deal or not. The fate of the franchise depends upon her lightening up and lighting up (pun intended)!

Maggie Noodle Review - 2012

Roland Emmerich has been leading up to this movie. Step by step, disaster by disaster. The man hit the big time with Independence Day, then went on to make Godzilla, where he destroyed big chunks of New York City, and then onto The Day After Tomorrow, where he began to think global. In 2012 Emmerich takes his art to its logical conclusion - he takes on the entire world and destroys it, and then ends with a rejigged distribution of landmasses. Disaster movies do not come any bigger than this.

(Of course, the cynic might point out that there's other planets, the solar system, the Milky Way, and finally the universe, so Emmerich may still have some tricks up his sleeve).

The movie has all the ingredients required for a disaster movie and faithfully checks though each and every one of them. The plucky hero, the separated wife, the lovable kids, the other boyfriend, the...never mind, you get the drift. You know the eventual fate of every character the minute they appear on the screen and are not surprised when you are proved right.

But everyone knows this going in. It's not as if the previews were misleading. So, knowing that, I'm here to tell you that Emmerich delivers on his promise. The special effects are top notch, the action sequences are incredulous but they carry you along through sheer force of will and if you don't worry too much about accuracy and storytelling you will get your money's worth. The world may not end the way Emmerich predicts, but boy, if it does it will be hard-pressed to beat him for sheer magnitude and effect!

Mr. Inevitable, meet Mr. Indomitable

Test 2: India Sri Lanka at Kanpur

That India would win the second Test on the 4th day of play was a foregone conclusion (in my mind, at least). The question was what the margin would be. Innings defeats have a wonderful way of unearthing an innings of rare brilliance that lightens up the day even as the overall result is never in doubt. There are way too many examples to jot them down here. Invariably, the next day's reports talk about how one batsman showed the way and if only the other batsmen had applied themselves just as well. After a round of sighs and commiserations, life goes on.

Thilan Samaraweera threatened to play such an innings and, unfortunately for him, got derailed because Ajanta Mendis suddenly looked like an accomplished batsman and Thilan's sense of urgency died with that and he was content to push along in singles and twos. As soon as Mendis was snaffled, the other wickets went by too quickly for a stat-padding century. Oh well.

Harbhajan Singh may have ended up with the most wickets but apart from one brief period when he fizzled from round the wicket, the Economy Singh of late was much too evident. Pragyan Ojha did not do anything drastic, pounding away on off and outside off, tying down the runs and reaping the rewards at the end for a well-deserved set of wickets. In the years to come I hope the selectors will look at the whole package and not the wickets column in gauging the utility of bowlers. And I am speaking for both Economy and Pragyan here.

I am grateful the man of the match was given to Sreesanth and not to Sehwag or Gambhir, who deserved it, too. All too often it is easy to get carried away by batting exploits. Runs will be scored aplenty in this day and age but bowlers need to be rewarded, too. After all, they do need to take 20 wickets to win a Test.

Kumar Sangakkara made a tactical blunder by referring to India as the "Final Frontier" and by suggesting that the Indians are not too good when pressured. This Indian team is filled with players who have one vital attribute - they have not suffered years of debilitating losses in Tests. Sachin Tendulkar is about the only player on the team (and Dravid and Laxman to a lesser degree) who remembers those days when going into a Test the first option was draw and the second was to keep the margin of defeat to a minimum.

Much has been made of the fact that this was India's 100th Test win. Very little has been made of the fact that this was Tendulkar's 57th 52nd Test win. Think about that. India began playing Tests in 1932 and did not win its first Test till 1952. Until 1989, India had won 43 48 Tests. 57 years, 43 48 Test wins. Rahul Dravid, who made his debut in 1996, has been involved in 45 wins. So in the last 13 years, India has outdone it's first 57 years. We are fortunate to be living in a golden age for the Indian team. (Editor's note: The leader in this category is Shane Warne, who was involved in 92 Test wins. After the first Test of the current series against the West Indies, Ponting sits at 91 Test wins, and will surely cross Warne and attack 100 pretty soon.)

Consequently, by trying to evoke the ghosts of past failures, Sangakkara brought attention upon Sri Lanka's lack of success on Indian soil and the pressure is bound to get even more intense with just one Test left.

MS Dhoni's greatest attribute as a captain is that he is not overawed by the opposing team taking matters into its own hands. His calm demeanor rubs off onto the rest. The feeling he engenders is that things are under control and we do not need to panic yet. This feeling carries over into the batting and the bowling and his record of 6 wins and 3 draws attests to that. The three draws have not been run of the mill draws. India has come through and batted out a draw in each of those cases when defeat was a possibility.

If I am Sri Lanka, this is what I do - retain the same side. Risk losing the Test in order to get a win. It means batting hard, fast, and aggressively. It means bowling to attacking fields. Forget protecting the boundaries. The Indians are actually quite content to milk singles if they are offered on a platter. Yes, even Sehwag. In fact, especially Sehwag. Gautam Gambhir is not available for this Test, so attack Murali Vijay. But be warned, he is no mug with the bat as his debut performance against the Australians showed. Still, putting pressure on the Indians and sustaining the pressure are two different things. Sangakkara has shown glimpses of the former and very little of the latter.

Seriously, Sangakkara. Losing 1-0 or 2-0 makes no difference to you, but if it means possibly coming out with a 1-1 tie, then what do you have to lose?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cracks in the edifice

Test 2: India Sri Lanka at Kanpur

The experts predicted that the surface of the pitch would begin to show cracks by the 3rd day of the Test match. The cracks appeared right on cue, not on the pitch but rather in the batting facade of the Sri Lankans.

Faced with backing out of a 642 run hole with three full days to go, the batsmen seemed unsure of whether to attack or defend their way out of it. Naturally, they were trapped in between. Sreesanth reaped the rewards of coming in all day bowling in the 135-140kmph range. Yes, he was quite threatening but the balls that got the wickets were not that special, except for the 5th one, which was a beauty to get Herath. He will be the recipient of reams and reams of newsprint devoted to him with the words reformed, redemption, and refocused featuring prominently in them. I will believe that he has reformed only 5 years from now, not based on one innings. He has lost a lot of things in his life in the time spent outside the Test team but he has not lost the most important thing - that incredibly unwavering seam position of the ball when it leaves his hand.

At the other end, Pragyan Ojha was living up to his billing with a display of bowling that was remarkable for two things - his control over line and length and his fearlessness in flighting it into the spot he wanted to. In 154 overs the Sri Lankans managed 11 maidens. In just 23 overs, Ojha managed 12. The wickets he got were not because of some fantastic balls but more because of the control and tight line he maintained. It was fitting that his first wicket in Tests was of Mahela Jayawardene, caught by Tendulkar.

With 4 wickets gone for next to nothing, Sri Lanka is trailing by 356 runs with 180 overs to go. Unless they can conjure up something magical, this Test is done and dusted. If this Test ends with an innings victory, I fear that the BCCI will mandate such a flat track for the next Test it will be stillborn even before it starts. At stake for India is the #1 Test ranking (India will reach #1 with a 2-0 series win) and, hopefully, that may spur Daljit Singh, the head curator, into letting the pitch be.

This week has been a comeback for three fast bowlers - Mohammad Asif, Shane Bond, and Sreesanth - and all three of them have shown glimpses of why they were missed. Here's hoping they can sustain it for years to come. Test cricket will be so much richer for it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Double take

Quick question: What exactly are the security guards protecting? MS Dhoni or the pitch?

Sure looks like the latter, doesn't it? How apt.

CricInfo 2009

Pleasant surprise

A couple of years ago, spurred on by a gift of a few books, I decided to accumulate the entire collection of Asterix comic books. It took me a few months but I finally mamanged to get them all through

Periodically, when I want some light reading, I pick up one of the books and lazily wander through them, reliving some of my best childhood memories. A few days ago, during a break in the first Test action, I reached into my bookshelf, picked out a book, and laid my hands on this:

I opened it, read the first panel and did a double-take. I did not remember any of the words or images. I continued on and about half-way into the second page I realized that I had never read this book. I must have overlooked it all these years and then once again while I was collecting the books. So, with trembling hands and a wide smile on my face I read my first new Asterix book in over two decades. What joy!

Eyes wide shut

Knowing that I will be up most of the night watching India play Sri Lanka, I thought I would catch a few hours of sleep but there are two other Test matches going on at the same time. Ricky Ponting and the Aussies are wading into the overmatched West Indians while New Zealand are "visiting" Pakistan in New Zealand.

I watched Ponting bat till lunch and then switched to the New Zealand match. And a good thing I did. My favorite and the world's fastest bowler, Shane Bond, has come on to bowl and is as fast and as menacing as ever. He just bowled a ball at 151kmph. Oooh! This is Test cricket at its best - a bowler thundering in, the batsmen jumping around.

Dean Kozanic/The Press

Bond is back! Thank goodness that ridiculous ICL-related ban is done and dusted with.

Of mountains and meandering streams

Test 2: India Sri Lanka at Kanpur

The second day's play was notable for one thing: the mountain of runs that India piled up and the lack of enterprise shown in the last two hours while doing so. India powered along, as the day progressed, with Rahul Dravid surviving a streaky inner-edge to fine-leg to post his 28th century. He looked good for at least another 100 more when he was freakishly run-out while backing up to Herath.

Before that Sachin Tendulkar batted as if he were on a minefield, pinching singles here and there, content to pat away any ball that was not on the pads. Eventually it occurred to even him that he may run out of time and not get to a century, about the only motivation that goads him into action these days, it seems. Ajanta Mendis got a gift in the process.

VVS Laxman and Yuvraj Singh were untroubled through their association. Laxman was dropped by Herath every early on (which led to Dravid's unfortunate run-out) and passive-aggressively coasted to another 50, followed soon after by Yuvraj. By then it was getting apparent that India was going to declare an hour after tea. Knowing that this deadline loomed, rather than force the pace and make as many runs as possible, all the Indian batsmen batted for time. Consequently, Sangakkara and Herath woke up to the possibility of taking wickets and the left-armer quickly picked up a 5-fer that he can now throw in the critic's face, completely overshadowing the fact that up until the point he took his first wicket his analysis read: 26-1-109-0, and the Indian score was 613 for 4. He ended with 5 for 121 and walked off to a hero's welcome.

Dilshan gifted Zaheek Khan with a wicket off the first ball. Fret not, Dilshan, you will get a second chance to make runs in a day or two. The rest of the day was not for the highlight reel, except for the sorry display by Harbhajan Singh. Don't let the 7-3-9-0 analysis fool you. About three quarter of those balls were fired in fast and flat on the middle-leg stump line. I am ready for Harbhajan to be sent back to the Ranji Trophy to regain his old loop. Luckily he has two more days to sort it out...okay three, technically speaking.

Sri Lanka needs to be patient but cannot afford to be defensive. Be on the lookout for runs, get closer and closer to 450 and some of the bowlers (and fielders) will start going through the motions and let you off. A triple century is achievable for a batsman willing to pace himself accordingly. Good luck.

One last note. The best thing that happened for India was getting all out. This way, in 3 days time, MS Dhoni will not have to hear about how he spent too long to declare or did not score enough runs, depending upon the outcome. By taking matters out of India's hands, Sri Lanka actually worsened their chances of winning the match and played into India's favor.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Seh-whack to the fore

Test 2: India Sri Lanka at Kanpur

The first day's play in Kanpur featured 2 wickets and 417 runs. But the everlasting memory of the day was the brilliant innings of Virender Sehwag. Many other batsmen will make runs on this pitch, this flat abominable rolled piece of turf that was supposed to support fast bowlers, then the batsmen and then the spinner. But none of them will make it with the stamp of authority and sheer insouciance that is Sehwag's calling card.

After the first 45 minutes or so, where he overcame a dropped catch and reached 6 runs in 26 balls, Sehwag exploded. Rangana Herath, Mutthaiah Muralitharan and Ajanta Mendis were smashed to all corners of the field with scant regard for reputations or bowling line and length. In this endeavor he had his favorite accomplice - Gautam Gambhir. The duo are in a zone these days when it comes to pacing the innings and when one slows the other presses forward. Gambhir reached his 7th century in the last 9 Tests, a feat that is even more impressive than it sounds.

If Sehwag had not uppishly driven to Dilshan's left at short cover, India would easily have been near 500 for the day, I think. The first session produced 131 runs, the second a mind-boggling 176, and the third 110. After Sehwag's departure Gambhir continued on after his century while Dravid played a typical innings. Sachin Tendulkar batted very quietly, not looking to drive home the advantage, content to take what Sangakkara was giving him.

The Sri Lankan bowlers are hampered by a captain who panics at the first sign of aggressive intent from the batsmen and spreads the field.

The Test match is really setting itself up for another run-fest. And I am not sure if this is how a series between the #2 and #3 ranked teams should be played out.

At least, on day 1, we had Sehwag. For one day all was well in the world.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Of perpetuating myths

AV/BRB has left a couple of probing questions on my blog concerning SRT's role in "saving" the first India-Sri Lanka Test match at Ahmedabad. He says that giving SRT credit for a match-saving century is ridiculous considering that the match was decided 9 overs before the century came.

Let's analyze that:
At the end of 120 overs, India was at 397/4, Laxman on 51* (134 balls) and SRT on 87* (183balls). The Indian lead was 64 runs. At this point the match could be called off by mutual consent if the two captains believed that a result was not possible. India could not win at this stage whereas Sri Lanka had a very remote chance of doing so. SRT-Laxman had put on a 122 runs in exactly 40 overs so it was highly unlikely they would not be able to continue on for another 15 overs. However, India continued to bat to let SRT get another 13 runs for a century.

When SRT came in to bat, India trailed by 125 runs with 79 overs still to go. He stayed not out till the end ensuring that Sri Lanka did not make any further inroads from his side, at least.

Don't forget, it was the fact that SRT and VVS looked solid and impregnable that made the last 15 overs moot for the purposes of the match. So, in that context it was a match-saving innings. If AV/BRB's quibble is that it was a match-saving innings and not a match-saving century, let's parse it a little further with some historical perspective and some conjecture.

Let's say SRT get out on 87 trying to add to his total. If I am Sangakkara, I continue to bowl just to see if I can get another wicket or two - Yuvraj is not the best player of spin and pressure can do some wonderful things (Sydney 2008 comes readily to mind). In that sense, it was a risky move to make. But balance that with the fact that the smallest partnership an Indian duo put on in the second innings was 66 runs and it featured the #10 batsman which also tells the tale of the pitch and the field placements.

In the next 9 overs, SRT got to his century without giving Sri Lanka even a whiff of a chance. It was a match-saving innings and it featured him scoring a century, so why can't it be called that?

If you want to say that he batted slowly, let's compare his play with that of all the other batsmen on the basis of that day (the 5th day).

Gambhir: 40 runs in 110 balls. (Overnight 74 (120)).
Mishra: 12 runs in 26 balls (overnight 12 (25))
SRT: 100 runs in 211 balls (87 (183 balls)).
VVS: 51 runs in 160 balls (51 (134 balls)).

Gambhir's strike rate: 36.4 (overnight 61.7)
Mishra's strike rate: 48.0 (overnight 46.2)
SRT's strike rate: 47.4 (47.54 at 120 overs)
VVS's strike rate: 31.9 (38.1 at 120 overs)

SRT batted with more enterprise than the other two top order batsmen did on the day. Even with the negative fielding set for him he got 13 runs in 28 balls at a strike rate of 46.4 to get to his 100.

It was a match-saving inning and it was also a match-saving century. Gambhir did a lot of the work the previous day when Sehwag was going hammer and tongs and he swam along in the slipstream. SRT came into a situation that needed solid batting for 4 hours, at least 3. He did just that.

Express your displeasure about the ignoble way in which he approached his personal landmark but do give the man his due for the yeomen work he did overall.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Running diary - Day 5: Clinical India draws level

This is a running diary that I will keep updating periodically with random thoughts as and when they occur during the day's play of the first Test between India and Sri Lanka being played at Ahmedabad (November 16-20, 2009). I shall keep it in chronological order so the latest additions will be at the tail end of the diary. Also, since this is being done on the fly, excuse the spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Running diary - Day 1: Dravid shows the way yet again

Running diary - Day 2: Dilshan to the forefront

Running diary - Day 3: Single-minded Sri Lanka

Running diary - Day 4: Two-faced teams

Day 5

At the start of the last day's play the situation is this: India is 192 for 2 in 45 overs, trailing by 144, Gambhir on 74, Mishra on 12.

The match has boiled down to a simple game - if Sri Lanka does not take 8 more wickets, the Indians will have spent a day on the field padding their batting averages. For India, it is imperative that Amit Mishra stays at the crease for a long time, now that he is already batting. The early morning period is the best time to take wickets and if he can negotiate that tough period it will help his teammates immensely.

As the day goes along, if India is able to thwart the Sri Lankans, then the commentators will start talking about "moral victories" and that ephemeral concept - momentum - heading into the next Test. Amit Mishra's fate will be discussed and possible teams for the next Test dissected. If Sri Lanka is able to prise out wickets then some old storylines will come out - too familiar to recount here.

By the way the number of wickets that Sri Lanka needs today - 8 - is more than have fallen on any day of this Test match so far (6,7,2,7 on the first 4 days).

10:00pm: Angelo Matthews starts the day's proceedings. Does it mean Dammika Prasad is indeed injured? He walked off gingerly at the end of the day's play yesterday. Matthews is on target right away, probing away at the off-stump. Gambhir is in the nip/tuck mode and looking to flick the ball to the leg-side, rather than presenting a full face. Two straight balls he presents an angled face. Gambhir counters by taking guard a foot outside the crease and presents the full face for the rest of the over. Sri Lanka gets its first maiden of the innings to start the day.

10:07pm: Welegedara from the other end and Mishra promptly deflects him to deep point for a single. The fifth ball induces the most convincing edge of the entire Test match from Mishra but it is dropped by Dilshan at second slip and it rolls away for a four. Oh dear, Sri Lanka cannot afford to be so profligate. The next ball is flick-driven away for four by Mishra to pour know what I mean.

10:12pm: Based on this innings I suggest that if his leg-spin bowling does not take off, Mishra should reinvent himself in the Ravi Shastri fashion and become a batting all-rounder. Three overs into the innings Shastri talks about replacing Mishra in the next Test. Murali Vijay, who was in the Test team for the first game and was sent back to play Ranji Trophy, has scored 140-odd for Tamil Nadu. Meanwhile, Badrinath is getting paid to sit on the bench and look interested. Matthews beats Gambhir once outside the off-stump but otherwise keeps him quiet and secures his second maiden in a row. Where was he all of yesterday when the Sri Lankan bowlers were being taken to the tune of 5 runs an over? I suspect he was fielding on the boundary and thanking his stars that his bowling was not coming under the scrutiny of the selectors.

10:18pm: Gambhir opens his scoring for the day with a flick-drive to the fence. There are two slips but they are so wide apart that is like having a one-and-a-half and third slip. Welegedara now comes round the wicket. That's funny - Matthews, who has the natural angle across Gambhir, is bowling round the wicket to him, while Welegedara is going round the wicket seeking that very same angles that Matthews is eschewing.

10:21pm: The folks on TV dust up Gambhir's numbers in the second innings of a Test, something I had pointed out yesterday itself. Pshaw! And all I have are my fingers and access to CricInfo. Mishra has scored 10 of the 15 runs scored this morning. A great deal of dissection of the batting record of Indian batsmen in the 2nd innings of a Test match is going on. That old Sachin Tendulkar bogey - his performance in the 2nd innings - has raised its ugly head.

206 for 2 in 50 overs, Gambhir on 79, Mishra on 23. India trail by 128 runs with 85 overs to go.

10:27pm: Murali comes on to bowl, the start to what can well become a 43 over spell. His stamina is an underrated part of his skill set. Only one slip and forward short-leg in place , though the #10 batsman is facing him. Oh, how the mighty have fallen...or been felled by the pitch. Maiden for him, the first of the innings, and only the 5th in 41 overs in this match.

10:31pm: Matthews is getting a little reverse-swing (towards the shiny side) at about 128 kmph. Gambhir is playing away very carefully. Matthews is probing away a foot or so outside the off-stump from round the wicket. About 4 balls in the first 3 overs of his have reached the keeper on the bounce. Another maiden, the 3rd in 4 overs for him.

10:35pm: Mishra flicks a single and raises his highest score in Tests. You cannot stop him, you can only hope to contain him! Gambhir goes to pull a short ball but only manages an under-edge between his legs for a single to fine-leg. A lot of head-shaking from Gambhir. He has looked a little stiff and unsure of his footwork at times this morning. 208 for 2 in 53 overs, Gambhir on 80, Mishra on 24, India trail by 126 with 82 overs to go.

Tom Alter sighting on-screen. Is his son at the ground, too? I know his son is doing ball-by-ball commentary on CricInfo's outstanding site but I am not sure if they do it like me, via television, or on-site.

Dammika Prasad is on the field, available to bowl if necessary, informs Arnold on TV.

10:40pm: Prasanna Jayawardene is standing up to the stumps to Matthews in an attempt to stop Gambhir from playing out of his crease. He does so without a helmet and collects three straight balls. 4th maiden in 5 overs for Matthews.

10:41pm: Mishra steps out to Murali and drives back to the bowler! Defends away the next two balls. But the first ball has left its scar on Sangakkara, as he responds by placing a deep midwicket. Kumar, no one has even hit the ball there. All you have done is ensure that Mishra does not leave the crease and play a risky shot. The fact that Murali is an accomplice in this field placement does not reflect well on him either. Murali does get another maiden as a reward for that inspired piece of defensiveness. Baby steps, baby steps.

10:44pm: Matthews continues to peg away just outside the stumps to Gambhir and is patiently punched away by the lefty. A battle within a battle here. A battle that Gambhir wins when Matthews finally drifts onto the body and Gambhir promptly flicks him for a single. A leg gully in place. This is the first sign of a pro-active field placement from Sangakkara that I have witnessed in this Test match. Until now he has tended to follow the ball with his fielders.

And the leg gully pays off!! Mishra flicks right into the trap and Dilshan takes a brilliant one-handed catch low down to his right. A plan works for Sangakkara. I hope this convinces Sangakkara to keep thinking outside the box all day. He needs only 7 more such efforts to win this Test. Mishra departs after a well-compiled 24 in 51 balls.

Sachin Tendulkar finally gets to bat in this Test match. His first innings was so fleeting (just 3 balls) it barely registers in one's mind.

209 for 3 in 56 overs, Gambhir on 81, India trail by 125 with 79 overs to go.

Gary Kirsten is chewing on a bottle cap. Arnold wonders whether it is a teat and decides that Kirsten has still not lost his childhood.

10:55pm: Murali to Tendulkar. A rare happening in Test history - the top wicket-taker bowling to the top run scorer. I wonder how frequently that has happened. Tendulkar starts with a sharp single to deep mid-off.

10:57pm: The leg gully is still in place but Matthews is bowling a couple of feet outside the stumps. Surely the next ball is going to be a good length one on the leg-stump now. It is a good length ball, but on the off-stump and is watchfully defended by SRT. Tendulkar then unfurls his trademark back foot punch to the cover fence. The ball takes its own sweet time to reach the boundary teasing the sweeper point into a long wind sprint. Welegedara tries to use his foot to stop it and fails.

216 for 3 in 57 overs, Gambhir on 82, SRT on 5, India trail by 118 with 77 overs remaining.

So far today the Indians have reaped the rewards of the fast batting from yesterday. By reducing the lead to less than 150, the Sri Lankans have not been able to go on an all-out offensive and the cautious start to the day's play has not added any pressure onto the batsmen.

11:02pm: SRT just leans forward and punches the ball to the cover fence. It was hit with enough pace to keep rolling to the fence but slowly enough to interest the fielder into a long, energy-sapping chase. The last ball of the over is hit away with more power to a squarer cover area.

SRT is showing that he has the skills and the technique to last a few more years. In the Test arena I don't see why he cannot play another 5 years at least, especially considering that India plays no more that 10-12 Tests at the most in a year. He could easily prolong his career to remain solely a Test player while renting his services out for the T20 version.

After the first hour of play, India has scored 33 runs in 14 overs, losing the nightwatchman in the process. Sri Lanka leads by 109 with 75 overs to go.

11:10pm: Matthews keeps Tendulkar quiet after Gambhir pinches a single first ball.

11:13pm: Gambhir is showing more intent in the 4 balls he has played since the drinks break as he steps away to cut Murali for a four and then follows it with a hop-skip-flick to midwicket for a single. Tendulkar, on the other hand, is looking like he wants to defend everything in sight. Ominous signs this for India (and a welcome one for Sri Lanka). I wonder what was in the fluids they drank during the drinks break.

Yardely tells me not to worry and that Tendulkar will put bad balls away when they come. He does bring up the ghost of missed Tests past and says that Kirsten has assured him a negative mindset will not be the order of the day.

11:16pm: Gambhir enters the 90's with a cut to sweeper point. Damage control seems to still be on Sangakkara's mind. Tendulkar listens to me and drives away from his body. The resultant outside edge flies away through the (vacant) gully area where Welegedara completes another fruitless windsprint, this time to his left.

Obligatory SRT-related Milestone watch: When Tendulkar gets to 35, he will have reached 30,000 international runs.

11:21pm: Herath replaces Murali. Gambhir's footwork is not as assured in the first over, almost as if he is not reading the ball out of the hand and is therefore not committing himself till the ball lands and turns. Herath helps himself to a maiden while Gambhir sorts him out.

India trails by 98 with 72 overs to go.

11:25pm: Matthews is into the 10th over of this spell, having given away just 12 runs with 4 maidens and a wicket in the first 9. A watchful SRT is well on his way to padding the maiden column halfway through the over. Yup, 10-5-12-1 for Matthews now. It has really helped him that the Indians have not tried to take him on today.

11:29pm: Gambhir continues his more aggressive play, cutting Herath to the third man fence. Jumps down the wicket next ball and inner-edges onto his pads. Maybe he suffers from Sehwag-itis, too. The need to bat with more of a flourish when nerves come into play as miletones approach. Next ball is played away quietly. Next ball, he waltzes down and hammers it one bounce to the midwicket fence. Naturally, Sangakkara sends a fielder to deep midwicket. Come on captain, risk a boundary or two to buy a wicket. *sigh* The last ball is gently hit to mid-on where Murali ambles in and Gambhir very alertly takes a quick single to get to 99.

11:33pm: Prasanna comes up to the wicket to stop Gambhir from wandering down the wicket in search of that landmark. Gambhir flicks Matthews to fine-leg for a boundary, reaching his 6th ton in the last 8 Tests. Another second innings century for him. Great effort, Gauti.

100 in 188 balls, his 4th in the second innings of a Test (out of 7 total in his career). India is now just 85 runs away from Sri Lanka, 69 overs left. 249 for 3, Gambhir on 103, SRT on 17.

11:42pm: Tendulkar plays the glide-weep of his for a couple of runs off Murali, just as I was getting worried that he had gone into his pre-determined defensive shell. The next ball is punched away on the backfoot and I am breathing a little more easily again. Shastri also points out the need to not get into a totally negative mindset. Yes sir, you are right.

11:51pm: Nothing really happening on the field. Indians content to wait for the bad balls and not really showing any signs of aggression. Both Tendulkar and Gambhir are in a quiet mode. India still trails by 81 runs with 64 overs to go.

Tendulkar needs 15 runs for 30,000 international runs on the same ground where Gavaskar became the first man to 10,000 Test runs and Richard Hadlee set a world record with his 374th wicket.

11:55pm: Five minutes to lunch and Sangakkara should go all out and surround Tendulkar who is in a completely defensive shell with lunch on the horizon. Gavaskar has taught him well. Three balls negotiated, three to go from Herath. Sangakkara is definitely not a captain with ideas. The placement of a fielder at leg gully was the only innovative field placement of the day. Apart from that he has just waited and waited for something to happen. MS Dhoni's critics should note that the Indian captain was proactive the whole time even as Sri Lanka scored 700-plus runs.

11:59pm: Herath bowled so quickly, Dilshan is able to come on for the last over before lunch. Gives up two singles to the two batsmen.

India 256 for 3, 78 runs behind Sri Lanka with 61 overs to go. Gambhir on 105, SRT on 22. The morning session yielded 66 runs in 29 overs for the loss of one wicket.

Time for a dinner break. I shall be back in about half an hour.

12:47pm: Sangakkara begins with a selection from the boondocks and Tharanga Paravanitana comes on to bowl. Tharanga begins with a full toss that is smashed away to the cover boundary. A couple of singles later he makes way for Herath.

(Jamie Alter, Tom's son, is doing the live ball-by-ball commentary on CricInfo at the moment).

The new ball is 5 overs away. That may well be Sangakkara's last chance at making something of this.

12:50am: Gavaskar finally notices that the highest wicket-taker is bowling to the highest run-getter in Tests. Murali looks seriously under-cooked and nowhere near his normal self. SRT looks a little more positive-minded since lunch.

Based on his style of play in the last few overs, I get the sense that Tendulkar knows he is close to the 30,000 run mark. I will know for sure when he reaches 35.

Thanranga has disappeared after just one over. Strange punt by Sangakkara and even stranger to not try it for a few more overs. Or even Dilshan for a couple of overs. Anything to try to prise out a wicket.

1:01am: Murali bows with a slip, a silly point, a silly gully, and a deeper gully, inviting the cut shot. Instead Gambhir leans forward and drives through the vacant cover region for a four.

274 for 3 in 79 overs, India trail by 60 runs with 56 overs to go. Gambhir 114, Tendulkar 31.

Does SRT not wear a cap when he plays spinners? He is batting with all his protective gear - helmet, chest guard, elbow pad, etc., while Gambhir is simply wearing an India cap.

1:05am: Gambhir steps out and tries to hit over the top but ends up miscuing it straight and high to mid-off and Sangakkara celebrates as if he had something to do with that dismissal. Gavaskar kindly says that the mid-off being close to the batsman induced that stroke. Sure.

Gambhir departs for 114, leaving the door ajar on his way out. In comes Laxman, once again batting at #6. I hope this does not send SRT into an ultra-defensive shell like he has a few times in the recent past.

The only times the highest wicket-taker has bowled to the highest run-scorer in Tests:
January 1887, Frederick Spofforth to Arthur Shrewsbury.
2005, Shane Warne to Brian Lara in the Adelaide Test.
2009, Muttaiah Muralitharan to Sachin Tendulkar at Ahmedabad.

VVS Laxman is on a pair and he gets off it with a simple push to deep cover. Deep cover? I don't really understand Sangakkara's captaincy.

The commentators point out that Murali has never bowled more than 17 overs in the second innings of a Test match without taking a wicket. He has gone wicketless in the second innings of a Test match just 6 times! Right now he is at 25 overs and counting without a wicket.

Shastri comes in and says that Laxman will be anxious to get off the mark. (He is already off the mark, my friend).

1:14am: Murali to Laxman. By the way, AV/BRB, Laxman is back to using an SS sticker on his bat. He shows us the label 6 times in the over, giving Murali another maiden over.

India trail by 58 runs with 52 overs to go. (Unless something monumental comes up I shall give you just this countdown).

1:18am: The new ball is due but Herath has bought himself a little more time with the wicket. He now goes round the wicket to SRT, who is slowly going into that defensive danger zone peculiar to him. Herath helps the Indian cause by bowling down the leg-side contributing 4 byes to the Indian total. SRT's forward press is getting more pronounced with each ball. Surely he can pick up singles. There are so many gaps around him. *sigh* He watched the Sri Lankans put on 700 plus runs and did not learn a thing. Can you sense my frustration at this tendency of his? He can easily get the runs without any risks. I am not asking him to jump out and smash the ball, but just nudge it around in the gaps.

1:21am: Shastri deapans that what Sri Lanka need is a couple of wickets before tea. I have never heard that line of thought from him before. The new ball is taken and Welegedara will bowl. Will he go round the stumps to Laxman? No, he doesn't and Laxman picks up a single to midwicket. Ranil Abenayake continues to perpetuate the myth that Laxman just got off a pair. Sirs, he got off it first ball. He is on 2 runs now.

CricInfo cottons on to the fact that Tendulkar is close to the 30,000 run mark. Not much longer before the TV guys get wind of this, too.

1:28am: All day Prasad has been nursing his injury, hiding away in the outfield, biding his time till he could bowl with the new ball. The time is now and he is thundering in to Laxman, with a tender hamstring. He does have a deep point. Why? It is not as if Laxman is going to upper-cut to the fielder there.

Okay, I think I have made my feelings clear about Sangakkara's bizarre field placements enough times and I shall stop. If there are any pro-active changes I shall let you know. If I don't say anything, assume that he maintained status quo.

India trail by 50 runs with 49 overs to go.

Okay, let me try a new tactic here. SRT, you need 67 runs in the remaining 49 overs to get to an (ultimately meaningless) infrequent event for you - a second innings century. That way, in the future when someone starts to point out your second innings failings, they have less statistical proof to support their point of view. So go get that century, and in the years to come people will forget the circumstances it came in.

By the way, in the second innings of a Test match SRT has scored 3581 runs with 10 centuries and 15 fifties in 108 innings (including this one), at an average of 41 plus.

SRT's strike rate is at 34, Laxman's is at an anemic 13. The problem with this rate is that if a wicket were to fall the pressure on the next batsman remains quite high. Cross off the runs and get into the lead and the pressure diminishes. Aargh!!!

SRT gets that single he needs to get to 30,000 international runs and Shastri points it out on TV (the next closest is Ponting with 24,057 runs). Celebrates that achievement with a push to midwicket. Prasad chases after it gingerly and the gently rolling ball reaches the fence. The last ball of the over is a full toss and punched away to cover for a couple. The run deficit is less than the overs left for the first time in this innings. I'm hoping that the quick 6 runs that SRT got in the last two balls kickstarts him into a more positive frame of mind. And just as I say that, comes the drinks break, no doubt giving him time to slow his heart rate and get back to his sleepwalking ways.

41 runs behind, 45 overs left.

The partnerships so far in this innings: 81, 88, 40, 66, 16* Sri Lanka has not been able to take wickets in bunches.

1:49am: In spite of the injury, Prasad is bowling in the high 130's (kmph). Not quite up there with his mid-high 140's of earlier in the Test but still quite impressive. A fully healthy 21 year-old (Ishant) was reduced to bowling at 125kmph even though he was bowling in the morning yesterday after a night's rest.On the leg-side there is one guy, at mid-on close in a single-saving position. On the off-side there are 2 slips, a cover and mid-off stopping the single.

Today's play: 45 overs, 104 for 3 at 2.3 runs per over.

Prasad has just an over or two more of work left in the Test before he can go to the pavilion and relax!!

1:53am: Welegedara goes round the wicket to Laxman, who gently guides it to the third man fence for his first boundary. Welegedara responds with a harmless bouncer, easily evaded by Laxman. Matthews is limbering up. Maybe Prasad's chance to put his feet up and avoid the mid-day sun is closer than I thought.

33 runs, 44 overs to go.

1:58am: No, Prasad continues. Just a generic over, played out calmly by both batsmen to the tune of 4 runs.

2:02am: Spin comes in form of Herath. Another ho-hum over enlivened by a ball down the leg-side that goes on to fetch 4 byes to India.

2:09am: Arnold announces that Murali indicated to him that he is going to retire from Test cricket after the home series against West Indies next November. Sri Lanka is not slated to play any Tests between now and then, would you believe it? So this is going to be the last time we will see Murali in Tests outside India. Only two more Tests left for him abroad after this. He needs 14 wickets for 800 in Tests. Phenomenal. (Editor's note: Emphasis added by bolding the text in the above paragraph as it is significant news to me).

India trail by 21 runs with 40 overs to go.

2:15am: Another ball keeps low down the leg-side and the keeper is unjustly adjudged to have given away 4 byes. Murali should think of this as a practice session for Mohali Kanpur and get into a rhythm without worrying any more about getting wickets. The Mohali pitch has a lot more bounce and that will be more to his liking.

15 runs behind 38 overs to go.

2:18am: The crowd is cheering every run like it is a boundary. Poor souls. They came in hoping for fireworks and are getting a steady diet of poppers. The crowd comes alive as SRT fulfills his date with destiny and reaches 50, his 54th in Tests. 50 more to get, 37 overs to go.

Quick score update: India is 322 for 4 in 97 overs, Tendulkar on 50 and Laxman on 15.

2:25am: Herath, bowling round the wicket into the rough, beats Tendulkar two straight balls. Gavaskar reckons that this is because SRT has slipped into a defensive shell. Shastri suggests that the thought of tea being a few minutes away may have contributed to this. How surprising. But the next time the great man is interviewed he will spout the same old lines about playing each ball on its merit.

15 minutes to tea.

2:27am: SRT and Laxman are easily picking up singles to the square-leg region as it is Murali's turn to stray onto the pads. Dhiraj Parsana, a member of the BCCI's Pitches and Grounds committee, is the man responsible for this pitch, which Shastri calmly says is good enough for another 600 runs. I hope he does not get anywhere near the pitches for the next two Tests.

India trail by 6 runs, 34 overs to go.

Even though there are 34 overs to go, in reality the two captains can agree to call the match off after 75 overs. So, Sachin has about 19 overs, realistically speaking, to get close enough to a 100 to convince the captains to continue for just a little while longer. (Editor's note: How prescient of me!).

2:35am: Laxman wakes up briefly to punch a full toss from Murali to the cover fence. India trails by 2 runs now at almost the stroke of tea.

2:36am: SRT takes a single to square-leg and India is a run behind. Yuvraj Singh is getting a massage in the pavilion. He has the Abhishek Bachchan look going for him now. Laxman is keeping the crowd on their toes, refusing to do anything more than pat the ball away, until the last ball where he hits a single to cover to tie the scores.

India will not lose by an innings. This is a rearguard of historic proportions. All over the country, a billion people exhale and relax a little bit. A billion people then offer prayers that SRT gets to a century. The billion people also probably don't care one bit about the exact state of affairs of this game.

3:38am: Laxman guides a doosra from Murali to the third man region for the rarest of entries in any Laxman inning - three runs. India has the lead now. Murali bowls a no-ball off the last ball of the session, prolonging the proceedings. Laxman takes the last ball and places it to third man, for a couple this time.

India are at 341 for 4 in 104 overs, Tendulkar on 55, Laxman on 28. India lead by 7 runs with 31 overs to go. The partnership is at 66 runs now.

81, 88, 40, 66, 66* are the 5 partnerships in this innings. Shastri calls this a "fantastic" pitch. A billion people stop what they are doing to stare at him with incredulity. 1527 runs, for 21 wickets at an average of 73 runs per wicket. And that average is hindered by the fact that India had two sets where they lost 4 for 32 and 4 for 47 runs. Take that away, and you get a scarcely believable 111 runs per wicket and Shastri thinks it is a fantastic wicket.

To keep my interest going in the post-tea phase, I shall start a countdown to two milestones. Tendulkar needs 45 runs to get to 100 and Laxman needs 22 to get to 50.

My vote for the man of the match is Welegedara, who injected the only bit of life into this Test with his brilliant effort on the first morning.

3:10am: Yes, Tendulkar is definitely aiming for that century now. The first 4 balls after tea have been: a pull shot for a single, a paddle sweep for four (off Herath), a shimmy down the track for a four to midwicket, and then a fierce cut to third man for a single (off Murali). 10 runs in 4 shots, just like that.

35 runs to get for SRT, 21 runs to get for Laxman.

3:13am: Laxman is still in the semi-defensive mode and the crowd is getting restless as the want to see the strike with the Man Who Carries The Hopes Of A Billion People On His Shoulders.

35 to get for SRT, 28 to get for Laxman, 28 overs to go (potentially only 13).

3:17am: The first genuinely happy smile that I have seen from Murali bursts through as he gets Laxman to tickle down the leg-stump but too low for Prasanna to catch. No harm done. One single to SRT, though.

34 to get for SRT, 28 to get for Laxman, 27 overs to go (potentially only 12).

3:19am: Tendulkar takes a single off the first ball. Can Laxman get off the crease and get SRT back? The second and third ball do not fetch anything but pushes straight to fielders. Tries a hoick across the line but misses the 4th ball completely. The 5th ball is defended away and the sixth ball is hit straight to cover.

Expect SRT to take more risks now that he and Laxman are in the 1:5 balls played per over ratio.

3:22am: SRT defends the first ball from Murali. I sense a reverse sweep coming on pretty soon. Murali is starting to get some fizz off the pitch and there is appreciable spin and bounce for him now. Where was this three hours ago when they could have used it? SRT flicks a single off the 4th ball, and Laxman defends the 5th one and takes a single off the last ball of the over.

32 to get for SRT, 17 for Laxman, 25 overs to go, (potentially only 10).

3:26am: Sivaramakrishnan calls this a "very, very good pitch." Laxman belies him by defending the first two balls from Herath as if the balls were going to explode off the pitch. The third ball is hit straight to cover and the crowd starts to get restless. The fourth ball confuses him and induces an inside edge to square-leg for a single. The same thing happens to SRT and he gets a single, too. One ball to go. Defended by Laxman and the Blue Billion heave a sigh of relief that SRT is on strike for the next over.

3:29am: SRT gets an outside edge to third man for one run. Murali has never bowled so long in the second innings of a Test without getting a wicket. Laxman flicks beautifully but cannot beat deep midwicket. Now, finally, Sangakkara brings his field in. What is that saying about barn doors and locking them after the horse has bolted? Laxman picks up the doosra and cuts it to the point fence.

30 runs to get for SRT, 12 runs to get for Laxman, 23 overs to go (potentially only 8).

SRT may have decided to give up the ghost of the century now. He defends the first ball and takes a single to long-off for the second. Can Laxman give him the strike? He let's the third ball go through the keeper, defends the fourth one, flicks a single to midwicket off the fifth one. Can SRT get a single? Yes, he can. Over gaaji.

28 runs to get for SRT, 11 runs for Laxman, 22 overs to go (potentially only 7).

3:37am: Single off the second ball for SRT, yet another single to square-leg. Laxman cannot pierce the field off the next four balls and the pressure builds, what little there is. SRT must be getting frustrated on the inside at the lack of strike.

27 to get for SRT, 11 runs for Laxman, 21 overs to go (potentially only 6).

3:40am: SRT punches handsomely off the backfoot to deep midwicket for a couple of runs and retains strike. Flicks a single off the next ball to get to 76. Laxman is able to punch away to deep cover for 1 run to give back the strike, the first time he's been able to do so promptly in ages. SRT defends a good ball on the off-stump, probably looking to take a single off the last ball of the over, which he fails to do so. And that is because he pierces the fielders in the midwicket region and gets a boundary for his efforts instead.

20 runs to get for SRT, 10 runs for Laxman, 20 overs to go (potentially only 5).

3:44am: Laxman sweeps viciously and hits Tharanga flush on the shin at forward short-leg. Flicks it vigorously past the same fielder for a boundary to deep square-leg next ball. Murali should probably stop bowling now. SRT pinches a single to third man to keep the strike.

Every top order Indian batsman who failed in the first innings has come good in the second, scoring at least a 50. Encouraging signs for the Indian team.

SRT needs 19, Laxman needs 5. 19 overs to go (potentially only 4 but since both batsmen are nearing personal landmarks they may continue beyond that now).

By the way, the century partnership came up some time back, the 72nd such partnership for SRT, behind only Ponting (75) and Dravid (78).

3:52am: Angelo Matthews in to bowl his restrictive stuff. SRT takes a single off the second ball. Vintage Laxman flick to the midwicket boundary. That ball raced away as fast as any boundary hit in this match, indicating the sweetest of timing behind it as Matthews is bowling in the low 120's.

SRT needs 18 runs, Laxman needs 1.

3:55am: Welegedara is introduced now. He begins by bowling very wide of the off-stump and keeps SRT quiet for the next two balls. He does get a single off the 4th ball and that is the scoring for the over.

38-6-124-0 for Murali tells the tale of the pitch, the batting, and the game.

SRT needs 17 runs, Laxman needs 1, 17 overs to go.

4:00am: Prasanna saves a boundary for SRT diving away to his left. The crowd groans. SRT cuts the third ball for a single to third man. Laxman sways out of the way of a bouncer. Off the last ball, he cuts away to third man for a single and gets to his 50. The top 7 Indian batsmen in this Test have all scored at least 1 fifty in the match. Yet another second innings 50 for Laxman.

SRT needs 16, 16 overs to go and the commentators are predicting that the game will be called off after this one.

4:07am: Laxman finally is able to take single off the first ball of the over. SRT gets three more runs in the over to reach 87. Surely they will let him go on and complete the century now. He is too close not be rewarded with it. And drinks are taken. Looks like SRT's quest for a century has not been hindered. Getting 32 quick runs in this hour has worked for him. Smart, very smart.

4:12am: They continue playing and a Billion Blue People heave a sigh of relief. 15 overs to go, 13 runs to get. The irony is that if SRT had not asked for a nightwatchamn last night, he could well have been beyond a century by now! Just for that they should have gone off the field. Now that he knows he has 15 overs, SRT is content to wait for the bad ball. Matthews is bowling wide of the off-stump, asking SRT to reach for it. So far, SRT has avoided it altogether, Sydney 2004 style. The 5th one is straight driven but Angelo stops it in his follow-through preventing runs. A fierce square-cut is fielded by point and Yardley squeals, "Why wasn't that man there all innings?" A maiden for Matthews.

4:17am: Welegeara bowls to Laxman, who will be trying to pass on the baton to SRT. 7-2 field so we know where the ball will be bowled. That was wide and collected in front of first slip. Sangakkara making a point to the Indians. The umpire finally wakes up and does his job, calling a wide. Seriously, why do the umpires wait before they do their jobs? This is another wide and Sangakkara is actually trying to reason with the umpire? Maybe he is just asking for clarification. The fourth and fifth balls are closer but not anywhere close to the batsmen. The last ball will surely be left alone now.

399 for 4, SRT still needs 13 runs.

4:24am: Sachin walks across the stumps and flicks it away to long-leg for a boundary! His ODI skills coming handy here. Takes him to 91. Steps across and cover drives a wide ball for a couple goes to 93. Leaves the next one well alone.

SRT needs 7 runs. The rest of the information is inconsequential. After beginning on the first day with a semi-mocking Obligatory Non-SRT Milestone watch for every batsman, it is just too ironical that the match is ending with precisely that - an SRT milestone watch!

4:30am: Herath operating over the wicket and bowling wide outside the leg stump. Maiden over and SRT back on strike with 11 overs to go. The high drama continues!

4:31am: Welegedara comes in now, bowling over the wicket. Can he finish the match a wicket? Three straight balls wide of the stumps. Make that five straight balls outside the stumps, with the 4th one being punched by SRT. The last ball is adjusted to by SRT, who slides across the pitch and drives it between cover and mid-off for a four!

I am actually starting to enjoy this cat and mouse game. SRT and Sangakkara are matching wits. Sadly, it is only now that Sangakkara is thinking his angles through. Sangakkara is bound to have about a 100 choice words after the match is over!

4:36am: VVS plays out a maiden as all the balls are pitched way outside leg stump by Herath.

4:38am: SRT walks across to the 8-1 field and flick-drives the ball to the mid-on fielder for a single, taking him to 98. Laxman is sure to let everything go by now. And he does. Laxman has stayed on 51 for two years, 7 months, and 4 days it seems.

4:42am: SRT is three overs away from a century at the worst, I suppose, and maybe only one ball away. Herath operates over the way wicket and way outside the off-stump. I sense a paddle sweep coming up. Laxman steals a single for SRT. Would you believe it? SRT plays a soft shot to the leg side, not really looking for a single. The fielders ambled in, too. Seeing that Laxman went haring down and a very comfortable single, in the end, takes SRT to 99.

4:46am: The Test match is now 1 run away or 1 wicket away from coming to an end. Sangakkara is taking his own sweet time setting the field. He is not even bothering to look like he is doing anything. 7-2 field, mid-on and midwicket in place on the leg side to Welegedara. Welegedara comes close enough to SRT to tempt him even as the ball swings away, but SRT leaves it alone. The next ball is defended to point. SRT walks across but cannot go past Welegedara who stops it quickly on his follow-through. A tap and run to mid-off gets Sachin to his century, his 43rd. Gavaskar is as happy as any seemingly neutral person can be. Gavaskar says that this century saved the match for India, along with Gambhir.

Sangakkara is now making India bat on. That was the 7th hundred in the match, one behind the world record of 8 (South Africa - West Indies). The match has been called off at the end of the over. India reaches 412 for 4 in 129 overs in the 3rd innings to draw the match.

Once again, I hope the man of the match goes to Welegedara. Mahela will probably get it, though. SRT celebrates 20 years of Tests with a century.

So a match that began with a bang when Sri Lanka had India teetering at 32 for 4, goes on to become one of the highest scoring draws you'll every come across. Fancy that.

7 centurions, 4 other scores over 50, 21 wickets, a world record partnership for the 6th wicket for Sri Lanka...I am sure CricInfo will have a lot more and I shall link to it tomorrow.

For now, I shall take a break and get some sleep before my classes tomorrow. 5 nights have gone by and Friday is at hand. Yay! I know what I will be doing this weekend.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Running diary - Day 4: Two-faced teams

This is a running diary that I will keep updating periodically with random thoughts as and when they occur during the day's play of the first Test between India and Sri Lanka being played at Ahmedabad (November 16-20, 2009). I shall keep it in chronological order so the latest additions will be at the tail end of the diary. Also, since this is being done on the fly, excuse the spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Running diary - Day 1: Dravid shows the way yet again

Running diary - Day 2: Dilshan to the forefront

Running diary - Day 3: Single-minded Sri Lanka

Day 4

There are three points I want to address before the day's play starts:

a) I have had a couple of folks ask me if the lack of success for the Indians is a sign that MS Dhoni's luck is running out and his captaincy is being exposed. I do not think that is the case at all. All through the Sri Lankan innings Dhoni has been varying his plans every few overs or so. He began by attacking, then moved into a semi-defensive mode after Dilshan was firing away, adjusted to Harbhajan's line and Mishra's length by tweaking his field. When he had an attacking field the bowlers, especially the two spinners, let him down badly. Even when he resorted to defensive fields he had the bowlers change their angles of attack (every bowler bowled both over and round the wicket during the course of the day), getting an extended spell from Mishara-Tendulkar from the Warne-line outside leg-stump spinning into the batsmen.

All the while, he has been pro-active and has not been shy about adjusting and trying things out. Even as the bowlers and fielders have dropped off, it has been more because of the lack of success of the plans than the fact that there are no plans.

b) Sometime after the first hour today, the TV commentators will begin their favorite parlor game - guessing when a captain will declare the innings closed. Commentators love to spend hours and hours talking about it (Arun lal, who is not in the team this time, loves this more than most). No matter when Sangakkara declares, it will not be the correct time to do so. But that will not be informed to us by the commentators until after the 5th day's play is completed.

c) Russel Arnold made a telling comment yesterday. Late in the evening, Harbhajan had the rest of the fielders in splits with his antics and jokes, injecting some life into the proceedings. As the camera lingered on Harbhajan, Arnold began talking about how Harbhajan Singh, of late, has begun improving his all-round skills, adding that his batting and his ability to make people relax on the field while fielding are good improvements. Then he said that, unfortunately for India, it was this third skill of his that he was making the most impression with in this Test, which was a big reason for the long day in the field. Arnold alluded to the fact that as the premier spinner and the leader of the pack a lot more was expected of him. True, very true.

10:04am: Ishant Sharma begins with the outside the off-stump line that served him so well against Michael Hussey but, thankfully, without a defensive field (no sweeper cover, no deep point, etc.). Gavaskar calls Yuvraj Singh the only outstanding fielder they have inside the 30 yard circle. Either he is in a time warp or he is being kind to the others. Having said that, since the time he took Samaraweera's catch, Yuvraj has been a lot more active than I can recall him being of late.

10:09pm: Zaheer Khan takes over at the other end. Prasanna flicks an inswinger to the square-leg fence and then edges the next one on the bounce to second slip. ZAK is getting some movement here and could be a handful over the next few overs.

10:14pm: Mahela hits a sweet cover drive to the fence. The encouraging thing for Ishant is that Mahela reached a little away from his body to get to it. Yuvraj slides arond at cover to save the next drive. This was hit even further away from his body than the previous one. Two slips lie in wait. 601 for 5, Mahela 208, Prasanna 89.

10:16pm: ZAK is coming in from a shortened run-up. His first-ball bouncer is effortlessly pulled away to the square-leg fence by Prasanna, taking him to 93.

10:21pm: Mahela cuts away two balls to the point boundary and Ishant Sharma's pace (or lack thereof), which is at about 125kmph, draws Gavaskar's ire in the field. Dhoni runs up to Ishant, has a word, and removes one slip and puts in a deep point. I'd probably have kept the slip and reduced one of the leg-side fielders, but that is a minor quibble at this point.

"Mahela has got lovely hands. I daresay if he wasn't a batsmen he'd have made a good potter," suggests Gavaskar. I don't think he is referring to Mahela's wizarding pedigree here, though he very well might be considering how he is wielding that willow. 613 for 5 in 165 overs, Mahela on 216, Prasanna on 93.

Obligatory Non-SRT Milestone watch: This is scarcely believable, but Mahela who began the innings needing 253 runs to reach 9,000 Test runs, is just 37 runs away!

10:31pm: Prasanna edges the ball just short of Dhoni and it slips under the glove, well past the bounce, and runs away to the fence taking him to 99. Ishant's lack of pace let him down there. Prasanna deserves this century. I hope he gets it. As an Indian supporter, I hope he does not get much more than that. And a glide to the third man fence, past point, gets him his second Test 100. Very well played innings, and thoroughly deserved.

Sri Lanka reaches 625 for 5 in 167 overs, a lead of 199, Mahela on 216, Prasanna 103. Their partnership stands at 250 runs even.

Prasanna is widely regarded as the best keeper in international cricket. One of the reasons he has not been a regular fixture is that other fellows with better batting skills have been considered for that secondary skill. With this innings, Prasanna shows that he can hang around on a docile pitch in foreign conditions, if required. While it is unwise to make projections based on a pitch that has already yielded a double century, and three other centuries, it is still a great sign for his supporters (and yes, I have been a fan of his since the time I saw him when India toured Sri Lanka) as well as followers of cricket around the world.

10:40pm: The field is now starting to spread just a little bit as there is very little movement for Ishant this morning. Actually he has been able to cut the ball in but at nowhere near the pace that he is usually able to generate. Both he and ZAK look stiff. The long hours in the field yesterday and the day before are taking their toll. Another glide to the third man fence, another boundary to that area, another gap that MS Dhoni now has to think about plugging.

Mahela looks like he will join Sehwag as the only right-handers to have scored two triple centuries in their Test career (Editors note: How could I be so dense?? I forgot that Don Bradman was right-handed, too!!). In case you did not pick up on this earlier, his 374 is the highest score ever made by a right-handed batsman in Test history (an innings I watched with fascination). Even that innings was as unflustered as this one has been. That day it took a freak ball from Andre Nel, one that kept very low after pitching, to get him out. I wonder what it will take to get him out today. Nothing I suspect the bowlers throw up will affect him in the zone he is in here.

By the way, if I am Indian supporter, I'd be rooting for him to challenge Brian Lara's score of 400. You do the math and figure out how long it will take him to get there and what it will mean in terms of time left in the Test match.

Sivaramakrishanan invokes the memories of Napier earlier this year and the cameras focus on VVS Laxman, whose rearguard innings in the second innings secured a draw for the Indians after the Kiwis put up over 600 runs in their first innings.

10:50pm: Harbhajan is jumping in today, bowling outside the off-stump but with loop and a forward short-leg and a leg-slip in place. He almost gets through Mahela's defenses there, the ball taking the inner-edge, going past the front leg, hitting the flap of the back pad, rolling down and hitting the back ankle. That last deflection is just enough to divert the trajectory of the ball past the off-stump. This has been the closest the Indians have been to dismissing him, hence that detailed description. Half-chances once every 222 runs deserve their own paragraph!

Oooh...CricInfo is referring to Mahela as MJ and Prasanna as PJ in their live commentary section. Why didn't I think of that?

638 for 5, 228, 104, lead: 212. Each number tells its own tale.

10:59pm: Amit Mishra comes on to bowl. No longer is it valid to say a bowler is coming into the attack. It is more like self-defense at this point in time. Mahela is enjoying his offerings, stepping down twice - once for four and then for six. That sound you hear is that of Amit Mishra's traveling case being shut. Scapegoats will be needed and since Harbhajan cannot be asked to "bowl a few overs in domestic cricket to get back his rhythm", Mishra will have to go.

About 10 different times in the past three days the commentators, especially Ravi Shastri, have pointed out that Mishra is under-cooked because he has not bowled in the longer form of the game for a long while and that he needs some seasoning. And every time that comes up, I feel like pointing out that the last first-class game that Harbhajan bowled was in the Test series in April this year, too. Since then he has predominantly bowled in the limited overs games, and in a fashion designed to contain runs. What's good for the goose has got to be good for the gander. I don't hear anyone mentioning that Harbhajan needs a stint of domestic cricket. What's up with that?

11:12pm: Amit Mishra bowls wide outside the leg stump and is still swept away for a four by Mahela, who moves to 244. In the next over, Harbhajan is picked up from wide outside the off-stump and sent to the midwicket fence. Harbhajan now goes around the wicket to counter it.

11:16pm: Ravi Sahstri starts talking about how Gambhir needs to prepare himself for the impending declaration. Not much longer to go before they start their parlor game - predict the lead at declaration.

11:19pm: Alert the authorities - Sri Lanka reaches 666. Hah! I beat Shastri to the punch by about a minute or so.

11:25pm: Yes, Shastri incurs the "what Sri Lanka don't want is to have India 8-down at the close of play tomorrow. They have got to leave themselves enough time" point of view. Naturally, he does not say exactly when he thinks enough is enough.

11:31pm: Prasanna and Mahela are starting to take toll, finding that scoring 4 runs an over is still do-able in spite of the restrictive line. Mahela crosses 250 and is within a single of 9,000. Sri Lanka is now at 683 for 5 in 182 overs, Prasanna on 124, Mahela on 252. The partnership is now worth 308 runs. Definitely the highest partnership between two batsmen who share the same last name but are not related to each other (just hedging my bets in case the Waughs or the Chappells had a bigger one). As I type that Mahela reaches 9,000 runs. Wow. I did not expect him to get it in the first innings of the series. Contrast that with Sachin when he needed 170-odd to cross Lara when he visited Sri Lanka. He left after the 3 Test series still a few runs short of that record. Unfortunately, India does not have a mystery spinner akin to Mendis in its reserves.

11:36pm: Russell Arnold is imploring the batsmen to "put the foot on the accelerator." I think he means he wants them to press harder on the accelerator, for they have had a foot on the accelerator for a long, long time now.

11:44pm: Mishra almost does a Nel, sending in a shooter that hits Mahela just above the ankle in front of the leg-stump. Unfortunately, since he is pitching it way outside the leg-stump, it is not an LBW. By the way, does anyone out there know why a ball pitched outside the leg-stump is automatically deemed to be impossible to give an LBW on?

Oh, the score is 695 for 5 in 187 overs, Mahela on 261, Prasanna on 127. This partnership is at 320 runs now.

11:52pm: Sri Lanka reaches 700, a lead of 273 runs. Virender Sehwag comes on to bowl - finally.

188 overs have gone by before Sehwag was thought of as an option. Or at least, agreed to turn his arm over. So far, he has not gotten any turn into the batsman. But his ball is drifting in the air, I think. Looks like that to me at least or maybe I am just deliriously happy to be seeing him bowl. 4 runs in that over, all of them to deep point.

11:56pm: Bruce Yardley gets into the spirit of things by guessing that Sri Lanka will declare with a 300 run lead. More than enough he reckons. Mahela distracts him by late cutting a Mishra offering (from over the wicket) to the third man fence.

11:59pm: Arnold offers up the first piece of positive news involving India in days - they have bowled 30 overs in this session, right on the target of 15 overs an hour. Sadly, this is the first session in this Test match when the REQUIRED target has been attained. Yes, we have had 9 previous sessions without the minimum requirement being met and no one with the authority to do something about it seems to care. Sehwag bowls the perfect, perfect off-break drawing the batsman forward, inviting the drive against the turn, beating the bat and even the keeper. Where was this man all these days? Ugh! In the pavilion, Murali's eyes lit up for sure.

And that's lunch on the 4th day. Sri Lanka 708 for 5, Mahela is on 267, Prasanna on 134, the partnership is at 333, the lead at 282.

And I shall take a break now. To sleep, perchance to dream. See you in half an hour or so.

Not that you care, but Ronnie Brown, the running back on my fantasy football team is injured and has been declared out for the season. Oh no! I need to go get me a running back and every team in my league has stocked up on them. Luckily, I have a two game lead so I have some time to recoup.

12:44am: Mahela is looking to score off every ball indicating that the Sri Lankans are close to where they think they are safe. Gavaskar starts counting overs and runs and predicts that Sri lanka will declare at the drinks interval. The game is definitely afoot, Watson. 8 runs off the first over by Mishra after lunch helps. By the way, Mahela now owns the highest score by a visiting batsman in India as well as the highest score by a Sri Lankan in an away Test.

12:47am: Sehwag at the other end, is picked off from way outside the off-stump to the midwicket boundary by Prasanna. Prasanna and Mahela equal Don Bradman and Jack Fingleton's world record for the 6th wicket in Tests. One ball later, they eclipse the pair. 349 runs and counting. I am sorry to say I did not catch that one coming.

Gavaskar: "The Indian attack has looked size 0." No comments.

Mahela reverse sweeps for a single. Sri Lankan intent very evident now. The lead is at exactly 300. A totally selfless attempt to hit a six results in the end of Mahela's innings. Mishra is cock-a-hoop. There is the small matter of 275 runs made by Mahela before that mis-step, though. 726 for 6, Prasanna on 144.

India sniffs a chance to get Sri Lanka all-out. Dhoni has the Lankans exactly where he wants them, 300 runs ahead and no one will fault the Indians for batting for a day and a half now, padding their averages. (By the way, if you did not detect the note of sarcasm there....oh well, never mind).

By the way the new batsman is Dammika Prasad.

Obligatory Non-SRT Milestone watch: Dammika Prasad needs 55 runs to reach 100 Test runs.

By the way, Dammika does have a first-class century to his credit.

4 of the 10 world record partnerships in Test cricket are by Sri Lankan pairs now (for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th wicket). Mahela Jayawardene has been one of the batsmen involved in three of them. Incredible.

Dhoni is still shouting instructions to Mishra on where to bowl to the batsman, keeping up a steady stream of advice.

Prasanna reached 150 now, the first Sri Lankan #7 to reach that milestone, Sivaramakrishnan informs us. 739 for 6 in 198 overs.

India is jut 40 overs away from the third new ball. Somehow I have this strong suspicion that they will not need to take it. I am really prescient about things like this.

Dammika has made 10 in 26 balls. Perplexing. Meanwhile Mishra has scored a double century, 57 overs for 200. In comparison, Harbhajan's 48 overs have gone for 189.

Yardley raises a very pertinent point: Mahela got out taking a big risk and was looking to score boundaries off every ball. Since his departure, the batsmen have just dabbed it around for singles. Why did Mahela bat the way he did if the intent was not to score runs quickly but rather to bat time?

Dilshan is applying some sunscreen in the pavilion. Yup, now we know what is going to happen in a few minutes from now. It has been 40 minutes since the lunch interval. The batsmen are still pottering away for ones here and there, not really trying anything extravagant.

And just after I type that Dammika Prasad swings hard and high and gets out, caught in the deep by Mishra off Harbhajan Singh. The Turbanator has done it, forcing Sangakkara's hands, causing the declaration to be announced.

Final tally: 760 for 7, Prasanna remains not out on 154. This is the 6th highest team total in Test history. Sri Lanka lead by 334 runs.

The Indian reply will begin in 10 minutes. I shall stretch my feet until then. Be back in a jiffy.

1:34am: I don't believe this. Sangakkara has a man at sweeper cover to start the innings for Sehwag, who hits the first ball for four past that fielder. Two slips, a gully, a cover and mid-off, apart from the sweeper. Sehwag is in Seh-whack mood, swinging freely at every ball, and gets the thick edge that is deflected away by the keeper into the gap between first and second slip. Dropped catch that was going straight to Mahela at first slip. No-ball, so it would not have counted. Maybe this will calm Sehwag down a little bit. The ball was so wide it hit the end of Sehwag's bat and Welegedara is a left-armer angling the ball away from the righty from over the wicket.

By the way, Sehwag's average has dipped to slightly below 50 runs an innings because of his recent run of cameos.

1:39am: Okay. Sehwag greets Prasad with a four to cover off the first ball. This man is something else altogether. The next ball is studiously defended away. The first defensive shot in this innings for Sehwag. Two more to sweeper cover now. Sehwag edges a drive between keeper and first slip for a four. Oh dear, both of them went for it and both of them whiffed.

In 11 balls the Sri Lankan bowlers have induced more edges than the Indian pacers did in the entire Sri Lankan innings. Is it the bowlers? Is it the batsmen?

Some math for Sangakkara to digest. At the start of the second innings there were 145 overs to go. Assuming India blazes away at 4 runs an over. It will take them to 585 runs, a lead of just 250 runs. There is no way India gives Sri Lanka a target less than that. Therefore, Mr. Sangakkara, there is no reason to not attack the batsmen. You don't really need to worry about the fours being hit. You need 10 pieces of inspiration to win the Test. Go get them.

1:46am: Gambhir finally plays in front of himself and punches it, Langer-style, to the cover fence. The ball was escorted all the way by the cover fielder. Just enough power, just enough timing.

Oh, India's score is 24 for no loss in 3 overs, Sehwag 16, Gambhir 7. Trail by 310 runs.

1:51am: Sehwag has made one adjustment to his technique in light of his first innings dismissal. When he is defending, the bat is in front of the pads, not behind it as it was in the first innings. Prasad bowls a ball that does not rise above shin height on its way to the keeper. Ooooh!

I have mentioned this a few times in the past but it bears repeating. Sanjay Manjrekar has mentioned a few times on air about how Sehwag bats when he is nervous. Where other folks tend to play within themselves when they are nervous, Sehwag's mode of dealing with it is to hit the ball hard and often, spreading the field and calming his nerves even as the bowler gets defensive. Manjrekar's astute judgement makes perfect sense when you recall a typical Sehwag inning. The flurries at the beginning and when nearing landmarks (he is the only batsman to reach 300 with a six and the second time he was nearing 300 he tried to reach it with a six again!) typically sandwich periods of "sensible" batting predicated on taking the singles on offer. I am reminded of Manjrekar now as Sehwag is no longer swinging his bat willy-nilly defending away the good balls after that hectic start.

2:02am: After a more orthodox start to his innings, in the last 3 balls or so, Gambhir has suddenly started batting in the nudge and prod mode that led to his downfall in the first innings (and the recent ODI series against Australia).

34 for no loss, Sehwag 16, Gambhir 17. Trail by 300 runs, 130 overs left in the match.

2:12am: Gambhir continues to bat that way. Sehwag and are picking up some really sharp singles without any sign of trouble. 39 for no loss now.

2:14am: 8 overs into the innings, Sangakkara has had enough of it and brings Herath on to bowl to Gambhir. Herath starts over the wicket to the lefty and round the wicket to the righty. Let the games begin! Sehwag is content to simply pat away the first two balls. The third ball is the prance down the wicket and he gets it off the outer half of the bat. No harm done eventually as it rolls into the fence on the second bounce.

Oh my goodness! Sangakkara's response is to add a guy at long-off to the guy already at deep cover. He has just two close-in catchers, and 5 inside the "30-yard circle". Four people patrol the fence with a 290 run lead. Seriously!

2:19am: Sehwag tries to get run out but Murali cannot hit the stump from mid-on with Sehwag about 5 yards short of the crease. Chalk it down as another life for Viru. The next ball is driven majestically by Gambhir but Angelo Matthews goes airborne to his right and plucks the ball on the bounce and prevents four runs. Already he has saved more runs that India did in the whole innings. What an effort and he is not even Sri Lanka's best fielder.

2:22am: Sehwag is fed on his toes by Prasad and he cashes in with a four to midwicket to bring up the 50 in the 10th over. Sehwag is on 28, Gambhir is on 22. The duo are taking turns amping up the scoring. Sehwag raced to 12, Gambhir went past him to 20, Sehwag has now overtaken him to get to 29, etc. It is like they are riding a tandem bike.

Herath again and Sangakkara has a long-on even before Gambhir has tried to hit over the top. I guess he must have been fast asleep all day yesterday when India ceded single after single to the Jayawardene's.

57 for no loss in 11 overs, Gambhir on 23, Sehwag on 33, India trail by 277 with 125 overs to go.

2:27am: Over number 12 brings Murali to the crease. Diametrically opposite to the first innings when he came on with the score 67 for 4 in 15 overs. It is now 62 for no loss in 12 overs.

2:32am: Gavaskar starts off again about there being just 3 overs to go for the tea break and how the Indians should be mindful of not gifting a wicket away to the Sri Lankans. I was listening carefully and he never advised the visitors to do that when they were nearing a break. Sehwag does not listen to him, cuts Murali for a couple to deep third man, and then gently pushes a ball to long on for a single. Murali is bowling with just 2 slips to Gambhir now. Too bad the Sri Lankan lead is only 268 runs. Imagine how conservative Sangakkara would have been if the lead was just 100.

This is very disappointing captaincy. By the way, Sangakkara, when the field was hemmed in Sehwag gave you two chances in the slips. Doesn't that tell you something? Also, if the roles had been reversed, how do you think Dhoni would have approached it? The answer should tell you whether you think Dhoni is a good captain in your mind or not.

2:40am: 69 for no loss in 15 overs, Sehwag on 40, Gambhir on 28, India trail by 265 runs.

Sehwag steps away from the leg stump and cuts Murali past first slip (in the air) to the third man fence. A few balls later the umpires decide they have had enough of Sangakkara's negativeness and take off the bails, signalling tea.

2:44am: India 77 for no loss, Sehwag on 47, Gambhir on 28, India trail by 257 runs with 118 overs to go.

I shall take a short break now and resume in a few minutes.

3:10am: Sehwag gets to his fifty with a shimmy down the wicket and a flick to the midwicket fence. One fourth of the way there now for him. He has been looking a little too edgy throughout the course of this innings. Ay caramba! He has thrown it away with a horrible slog sweep that took the top edge and Angelo Matthew took it comfortably at mid-on. 81 for 1, Gambhir batting on 28. Dravid comes in, the situation may cause him to revert to the Dravid of old. I hope not as the Dravid in the first innings was a welcome sight.

3:17am: Gambhir is not letting the wicket change the way he plays. With two slips in place Murali is trying to get him on the cut shot. Gambhir obliges by cutting for four and then getting a single to sweeper at point. 91 for 1 in 20 overs, Gambhir on 34, Dravid on 3, India trail by 243 runs with 115 overs to go.

3:21am: Good positive batting from Dravid. Solid in defense, as usual, but not afraid to rock back and hit the ball hard if the bowlers are shorter in length. Sensible.

3:22am: Rahul Dravid must be happy the fast bowlers are not on as he can now bat wearing a cap. It is going to be a long day in the sun today and tomorrow for all the players. 98 for 1 in 22 overs, Gambhir 36, Dravid 7. India trail by 236 runs with 113 overs to go.

3:27am: Gambhir waltzes down the track (and waltzes is the right word) to drive handsomely through covers for a four to bring up the 100 of the innings. Mahela is talking away and adjusting the field while Sangakkara watches. The field is a lot more attacking now that Sehwag has wandered away to the la-la land that only he inhabits.

By the way, before you ask me: I am not upset at the shot choice of Sehwag there. He bats in a different word from the rest of us and he has played enough long innings, more than most people, to know what works for him. He is not a maniacal masher of the ball and must have seen something in the ball that convinced him he could get away with the hoick (there was no deep midwicket in place). With a player like him, I'd be more inclined to let him have his way, especially as he has demonstrated his pedigree in the past.

3:30am: Dravid steps away and cuts Murali to third man. Murali nearly gets his man in return when a ball loops off Dravid's pad, just beyond the reach of the fielder at forward short-leg for a legbye...should have been a legbye but Tony Hill makes no indication suggesting that if the catch had been taken he would have sent Dravid on his way. Dravid is shaking his head vehemently at the non-striker's end but chooses not to say anything to the umpire.

3:34am: Five good balls from Herath and then a loose, overpitched ball outside the off-stump that the rejuvenated Dravid cashes in with a smash that the sweeper cover is not able to reach.

3:36 am: Sharp single by Gambhir to Dilshan at short cover, safely home in the end as the throw goes to the keeper and not directly to the stumps. 114 for 1 in 26 overs, Gambhir on 43, Dravid on 16. India trail by 220 runs with 109 overs to go.

3:40am: Herath bowls a tight line to Dravid, but with only two close-in catchers - slip and forward short-leg. Maybe Sangakkara hopes to bore the Indians into giving wickets. In response the Indians are taking as many runs as they can knowing that as the lead dwindles so will the hopes of a Sri lankan win.

3:43am: Murali is not bowling at all like the Murali I know. Dravid has cut him to third man three times that I can remember. Was I being too harsh on Harbhajan earlier? Murali's analysis as of now: 9-0-35-0. Herath: 10-0-38-1.

India 120 for 1, trails by 214 runs, Gambhir 44, Dravid 21, with 107 overs to go.

Herath occasionally bowls a ball using only two fingers - it is easy to spot as his action changes quite noticeably - and the ball is almost like Mendis' carrom ball - zipping through when it pitches.

Another thing about Murali that has just come to my attention. Normally he is very animated, smiling, cracking jokes, looking relaxed. Today he seems a little irked by something and is frowning quite a bit. 10-0-40-0 for him. I think he needs a short break, about 3-4 overs or so.

3:54am: Gambhir steps down, and flicks to midwicket. The single takes him to a richly deserved 50. Once again another 2nd innings 50 for him. Including this innings, the last 8 times he has batted in the second innings for India he has scored 3 centuries and 3 fifties with another 30 not out thrown in for good measure. That 8th occasion in which he missed out? He had already made 206 in the first innings in Anil Kumble's last Test match!

Gautam Gambhir is an oddity, an opener who is a very good player of spin. Aakash Chopra rates him as among the best players of spin bowling in the country, present Indian teammates included. High praise.

4:05am: Dammika Prasad comes in to bowl forcing Dravid to wear a helmet for the first time. Three no-balls slightly spoil an otherwise good over where he got Gambhir to chase a wide one giving him a chance to have a polite conversation with the batsman.

That takes us to drinks. India are 138 for 1 in 33 overs, Gambhir on 55, Dravid on 25, India trail by 196 with 102 overs left in the Test.

4:14am: Murali comes on right after the drinks break. Sangakkara may want to think of Welegedara for a couple of overs just as a change of pace before going back to Herath and Murali. Murali gets thumped to the cover boundary by Dravid, who is (I am grateful to report) batting like he did in the first innings - full of positive energy and hustle. 12-0-49-0 for Murali.

Sangakkara reads my blog (!) - Welegedara into the attack now. At the other end, I'd like to see Dilshan replace Murali for a two or three over spell.

4:18am: First three balls from Welegedara are right on the target forcing the forward press. Welegedara is getting the ball to swing into Gambhir just a little bit, enough to get the inner-half of the bat and send the ball towards mid-on when it was intended to go towards mid-off. Make that 5 balls in the same region. A single off the last ball to a ball that was wide of the off-stump ensures that 35 overs into the innings Sri Lanka still hasn't bowled a maiden over. I think it is as much an indictment of the wicket as it is of the bowlers being unable to bowl a steady line and length that keeps the batsmen quiet.

Gavaskar finally gives me the type of insight that I expect commentators, especially former players, to provide. He talks about Gambhir being someone who is always looking to learn something from the more experienced players. He expands on that with an anecdote that when Gambhir first came into the Indian team in 2004, he was quickly nicknamed Clovermint (or something that sounded like!) after a commercial wherein a highly curious person is constantly asking questions, much akin to how Gambhir was and still is.

4:27am: Four more runs from Murali's over takes India past 150. Welegedara is now bowling 2-3 feet outside the off-stump to Dravid with a lone slip nearby. Dravid takes up the challenge and square-drives him for a couple to deep point.

153 for 1 in 37 overs. Gambhir 62, Dravid 32, India trail by 191 runs with 99 overs to go.

Somebody finally replaces Murali - it is Dammika Prasad's honor to do so. Dammika Prasad and Peter Siddle are similar bowlers, if that helps you visualize Prasad's bowling style. Sweat is dripping off Dravid's visor, a sure sign that things are back to normal in the cricketing world. Prasad is gently deflected away by Dravid through the absent gully fielder to the vacant third man area, for a four. Prasad returns by moving the ball away and beating Dravid who was walking foward to meet the ball. Well bowled, sir. See, banging in short is not the only way to bowl. Pitch it up and let the swing come about on its own.

By the way, during the lunch break Saun Udal in the Sky Sports studio informed us that Middlesex has signed Adam Gilchrist as their overseas player for the T20 portion of the next County season. He hinted that they are trying to lure Sachin Tendulkar into joining the Australian. Midlesex must have a lot of money in its coffers. Gilchrist is living the life that Chris Gayle dreams of and Andrew Flintoff and Symonds are trying to attain - that of a T20 mercenary.

4:36am: Welegedara is getting some decent swing here - about the width of a bat or so. Enough to make the batsmen play him a bit cautiously and under their noses. If he stays healthy, and based on his CricInfo profile that is a big if, Sri lanka has found its replacement for the recently-retired Chaminda Vaas.

163 for 1 in 39 overs, Gambhir on 65, Dravid on 37, India trails by 171 runs with 96 overs remaining in the Test.

4:40am: Dammika Prasad is bowling in the low 140's, close to 90mph. Pretty good stuff. He has one ball on the leg stump and that (Editor's note: I am not sure where that thought disappeared).

4:45am: Dravid is given out LBW and that was surely not out. Dravid is not happy and the replay shows why. Hawkeye says it would hit the outside of the leg-stmp but that was not out at all. Welegedara was coming round the wicket from wide of the crease and the angle would have taken it past the leg-stump. Darryl Harper has another mistake in his copybook.

India 173 for 2 in 40.1 overs, Dravid out for 38, Gambhir batting on 70, India trail by 161 with 94.5 overs to go.

4:48: Sachin Tendulkar opts for a tail-ender and Amit Mishra comes in. I used to think it was the captain's call until I read somewhere that the Indian team leaves it to the incoming batsman to decide whether he wants a night-watchman or not.

In the first innings Mishra looked quite competent and he shows he can bat with a sweet cquare-drive for a boundary to get off the mark off Welegedara.

4:51am: Prasad comes in to Mishra with a deep point, a deep fine-leg and a deep square-leg, and the edge goes through the vacant third man area through where third slip would be. What are you protecting the boundaries for, Sangakkara? Crowd the #10 batsman and keep catching positions, you are leading by 156 runs. Now the ridiculously open field lets him take a single off the 5th ball of the over. 184 for 2, India trails by 150 runs with Gambhir on 72, and Mishra on 9. 3 overs left today, and 90 tomorrow.

Prasad is leaving the field, walking gingerly. I hope it is nothing serious as Sri Lanka will need him tomorrow. Maybe he is just ensuring he does not have to bowl again today and, thus, beats the rush to the ice-bath.

4:56am: Welegedara bowls with three slips for Mishra, and then a big gap until cover, with a deep point. The two boundary riders on the leg-side are still in place. Now, one of them comes in to square-leg. Now that Prasad has left I think Murali may bowl one more over. Mishra negotiates the over carefully and safely.

Two overs to go, Murali on to bowl. Three boundary riders, a slip, forward short-leg, short mid-wicket, short cover close by. A no-ball, Murali's 4th of the innings lets Gambhir punch it away for a single. Mishra jumps out and attempts an extravagant hoick and misses and makes it back in time before the silly point fielder throws down the stumps. Chagrined by that, Mishra then plays away the next 4 balls with the full face exposed to Murali. Better. It becomes best when he sweeps the last ball for a single and is going to take strike off the first ball of the next over.

It is the last over of the day and since he will be shielding Gambhir from the strike, I suspect the first maiden of the day for Sri Lanka will be in the books 6 balls from now, 45 overs into the Indian innings.

5:05am: Herath to bowl the last over. Ball one - driven back to the bowler. Ball two - flicked to deep midwicket for a couple, maiden averted! Ball three - punched all the way to deep mid-off. Ball four - defended on the front foot. Ball five - defends on the backfoot to short midwicket. Neeya mai, says the keeper (or something that sounds like that). Ranil Abenayake translates and says that it mean well done in Sinhalese. Ball six - taken on the thigh pad on the back foot.

End of day's play. India is 192 for 2 in 45 overs, trailing by 144, Gambhir on 74, Mishra on an impressive 12. Sri Lanka has not bowled a single maiden over in the second innings so far. And that tells you the tale of both team's approach. India has looked positive, looking for runs at every opportunity, knowing that the fewer runs that separate them from Sri Lanka in the deficit column, the lesser the pressure on them. Sri Lanka has looked very diffident in the field in the captaincy stakes. Sangakkara has been too quick to let the pressure relieve by spreading his fielders in a reactionary manner, placing them were the boundaries are being hit. Murali has looked very ineffective but the field he has is not attacking enough to make the batsmen think twice about shuffling around in the crease.

All in all, by lunch tomorrow if India is able to reduce the deficit to between 50-75 without losing wickets, we may see a long leather hunt for the Sri Lankans.

Okay now it is time to get some sleep. Organismal Biology lab beckons in the morning in a few hours from now!