COLOMBO: Defiant batting by India’s tailenders and twin blows by part-time spinner Virender Sehwag left the third and final Test against Sri Lanka evenly poised on Thursday.
India, chasing Sri Lanka’s first innings total of 425, were reduced to 321/6 in the post-lunch session of the third day, before the last four wickets added 115 runs to take the total to 436.
Sehwag, who scored a century earlier in the day, then dismissed Sri Lanka’s openers to leave the hosts tottering at 45/2 in their second knock, a lead of 34 runs with eight wickets in hand.
Sehwag had Tharanga Paranavitana caught behind with his fifth ball and dismissed Tillakaratne Dilshan in his next over, snapped up at short-leg by Murali Vijay.
Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara was unbeaten at close on 12 — having completed 8,000 Test runs in his 91st Test — while nightwatchman Suraj Randiv had yet to score.
The top-ranked Indians, seeking a series-levelling victory following the 10-wicket defeat in the first Test, have two days to force a result on a pitch providing turn and bounce for the spinners.
India’s total was bolstered by the eighth-wicket pair of Abhimanyu Mithun and Amit Mishra, who put on 64 runs.
The pair came to the crease at the fall of skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s wicket in the post-lunch session with India still 75 runs away from Sri Lanka’s total.
Mithun, who matched his highest first-class score of 41 in the second Test last week, made 46 with five boundaries before he was caught in the leg-trap off Randiv.
Mishra (40) missed his second Test half-century when he holed out in the deep off Randiv, who also removed Ishant Sharma to finish with 4-80.
Sling-arm fast bowler Lasith Malinga returned with 3-119, while unorthodox spinner Ajantha Mendis took 2-109.
India, who began the day at 180/2, were dealt two quick blows as veteran Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed in the first over and century-maker Sehwag in the sixth, both falling to reckless shots.
Tendulkar slashed at Malinga’s sixth delivery and edged an easy catch to wicket-keeper Prasanna Jayawardene.
The world’s leading run-getter, making a record 169th Test appearance, scored 41 in a third-wicket stand of 91 with Sehwag.
Sehwag, who was on 97 overnight, reached his 21st hundred in the second over by pulling Randiv for his 18th boundary.
But Randiv had the last laugh as Sehwag hit out against a flighted ball and top-edged the skier to Chanaka Welegedara in the covers.
Sehwag’s 109 would have given him a hundred in each of his last five Tests, had he not been dismissed for 99 in the previous match at the Sinhalese Sports Club.
The robust opener made 109 in the first Test in Galle, and 165 and 109 in the two home Tests against South Africa in February.
Venkatsai Laxman and Suresh Raina hit half-centuries during a fifth-wicket stand of 105, before Mendis dismissed both batsmen in the space of three overs after lunch.
Laxman edged a catch to Mahela Jayawardene in the slips after making 56, while Raina played an uppish drive to Sangakkara at mid-wicket.
Dhoni, who was hit on the fingers by a rising ball from Malinga, made 15 when he was caught behind trying to hook the same bowler.(AFP)