Laxman's composed knock puts India back in contest

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The Independent Online

V.V.S. Laxman's unbeaten 71 helped India recover from a top-order collapse yesterday in the third and final cricket test against Sri Lanka.

Sharing two robust partnerships, Laxman added 86 runs for the sixth wicket with Mahendra Dhoni (49) and 64 for the seventh with Irfan Pathan (39 not out) as India trudged its way to 247 for six at stumps on the opening day.

The Indian innings revolved around Laxman's composed 5-1/4 hour knock that contained nine boundaries off 194 balls.

Dhoni's aggression helped Laxman bolster India from a miserable 97 for five, which came after offspinner Muttiah Muralitharan (3-76) dismissed Sachin Tendulkar (23) and Yuvraj Singh (0) in one over.

Dhoni struck seven boundaries off 62 balls, but fell one run short of his second half-century when Muralitharan trapped him lbw.

Pathan took over Dhoni's role and had seven fours against his name before stumps were drawn after an hour's extension in the evening - to make up for the dew-caused delay in starting the match.

India made a sedate start after winning the toss, but its slump began when stand-in skipper Virender Sehwag (20) was clean bowled by pace bowler Lasith Malinga on the first delivery after lunch.

Sehwag struck four boundaries off 35 deliveries before his stumps were dislodged by a sharp incutter from Malinga.

Malinga (2-62) had earlier dismissed opener Gautam Gambhir, who dispatched him to the fence three times in a 33-ball 19 before top-edging a pull shot to rookie Upul Tharanga at mid-wicket.

Tendulkar scored a patient 81-minute 23, featuring two fours from 66 deliveries, before becoming Muralitharan's first victim when he gloved a catch to Jehan Mubarak at forward short-leg.

India lost three wickets in the space of nine runs as Muralitharan went on to snare Singh, who could not open his account, and leg-spinner Malinga Bhandara dismissed Mohammad Kaif for four.

Singh lasted just two balls, edging the second delivery from Muralitharan to Thilan Samaraweera in the slips and India was reduced to 88 for four.

Kaif pulled Bhandara straight to captain Marvan Atapattu at midwicket with India's total still three runs short of 100.

Sehwag is leading India for the first time in a test match, in place of regular captain Rahul Dravid, who was Friday night hospitalized due to a bout of diarrhea and vomiting.

Since his debut at Lord's in 1996, Dravid played 94 test matches without a break and was in contention to break Sunil Gavaskar's record of 116 consecutive test matches. No player has played more successive tests than Dravid from the start of his test career.

Sri Lanka was forced to replace its pace attack of Chaminda Vaas and Dilhara Fernando as both are down with flu.

Spinner Anil Kumble on Sunday became the fifth Indian to play in 100 test matches. Kapil Dev's 131 are the most tests played by an Indian, but Tendulkar is just five matches behind him.