India succumbed to the guiles of a rampaging Muthiah Muralitharan and wasted a fine start to be bundled out for 234 in their first innings on the opening day of the third and final cricket Test against Sri Lanka here today.
Muralitharan captured eight wickets for 87 runs in an unbroken spell of 34.1 overs to derail the Indian innings which looked in good health at 91 without loss at lunch after skipper Saurav Ganguly had elected to bat.
Muralitharan's magic began in his second over after lunch session and in less then two sessions, India had lost all their ten wickets. Openers Shiv Sunder Das and Sadgopan Ramesh flourished in the morning scoring 59 and 46 respectively before becoming the first two victims of the wily off-spinner.
Rahul Dravid, with 36, and Hemang Badani, who made 38, also got starts but were unable to build on them and got out to the off-spinner who produced the second best figures of his Test career. His best figures in an innings are 9-65 against England at The Oval in 1998.
By stumps, Sri Lanka had made 13 without loss in six overs with Marvan Atapattu batting on two and Sanath Jayasuriya on ten.
The Indians had no inkling of the impending doom when Das and Ramesh were batting with ease in the team's best opening partnership of the series. In fact, Das handled Muralitharan quite well, as he came out of his crease quite often to drive.
But that was before Muralitharan came into his own and ran through the Indian batting order, taking in his sway all but Mohammad Kaif and Harbhajan Singh who became Chaminda Vaas' 150th and 151st Test victims.
Ironically, it was Das who started the slide when he danced down the track going for a big heave but missed completely. Das realised that he couldn't reach to the pitch of the ball but continued with the shot and the ball clipped the bail on the leg and middle stumps.
That started the slide with Muralitharan dismissing Ramesh and Ganguly, the latter in a controversial decision, in quick succession to reduce the Indians to 119 for three.
Ramesh, who fell in the forties for the third time in this series, edged the ball to Mahela Jayawardene who took a good catch in the gully.
Ganguly, with the confidence from the match-winning knock in the second Test at Kandy showing in his body language, started positively and looked to attack Muralitharan right from the word go. He came out to drive the bowler but hit straight to the fielder at long-off. One ball later, he jumped again but this time he realised he was no where near the pitch of the ball and offered his pads.
While the bowler and fielder appealed in unison for a leg before wicket decision, Ganguly looked assured in the belief he was too far foward to be given out. So, when umpire Dave Orchards of South Africa upheld the appeal there was an expression of bewilderment on Ganguly's face as he walked back to the pavillion after scoring just one run.
Dravid, who had come at the fall of Das, looked his usual composed self and got into a familiar rescue act. He was comfortable against Muralitharan though he was using his pads more often than the bat. But Dravid could add just 27 runs for the fourth wicket with Mohammad Kaif before Vaas got the reward for bowling a consistent line just outside the off-stump.
Kaif, who avoided most of those deliveries, edged one to wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara to be out for 14. Though Kaif looked unhappy with the decision, TV replays showed he indeed had nicked the ball.
From 91 without loss, India had slumped to 155 for four at tea, the second session yielding 64 runs. But worse was in store for the visitors in the final session where they lost the remaining six wickets in about one-and-half hours.
Hemang Badani, who has been unable to live up to expectations in this series, finally seemed to get going as he unleashed a flurry of well-driven fours immediately after tea. He took two fours of Dilhara Fernando, who was brought into the attack after the break without much success, and treated Vaas with similar contempt.
But Muralitharan struck a vital blow when he dismissed Dravid, the mainstay of Indian batting, who gave a simple catch to Hashan Tillekaratne while trying to work the ball to fine leg. Dravid added 46 runs with Badani, India losing their fifth wicket at 192.
After Sameer Dighe was trapped leg before wicket off the second ball he faced, it was left to Badani and Sairaj Bahutule, who was included in the side in place of Harvinder Singh as the pitch was expected to help spin bowlers, to give some respectability to the total.
Badani stayed for some time and had a go at Muralitharan driving him for two fours but the bowler got back his due. Muralitharan, who was bowling round the wicket to left-handers, came over the wicket to Badani to change the angle and got the result with the third delivery after that. Badani lunged forward into a drive but only managed to find an edge and a waiting Tillekaratne accepted it gleefully.
Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan had nothing much to offer and Bahutule fought valiantly towards the end in the company of Venkatesh Prasad who remained unbeaten on 10. Realising that Prasad could not be relied to hang around for much time, Bahutule went for his shots trying to add as much runs as possible.
In the end it was he and not Prasad who was dimissed. Bahutule was stumped by Sangakkara for 18 and became the eighth victim of Muralitharan.
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