Lethal Laxman stuns Sri Lanka to level series

Sri Lanka 425 & 267 India 436 & 258-5 <i>(India won by five wickets)</i>
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The Independent Online

A masterclass from VVS Laxman, who hit his 16th Test century, ensured India won the Third and final Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo by five wickets to level the series at 1-1.

India began the final day on 53 for 3, chasing 257 to win, and lost their nightwatchman, Ishant Sharma, early on. But Sachin Tendulkar (54) and Laxman added 109 for the fifth wicket. Although Tendulkar fell to the spinner Suraj Randiv, who ended up with all five wickets, Laxman finished unbeaten on 103 and saw his side home with Suresh Raina, who smashed 41 and won the game with a six.

Laxman's knock was all the more impressive as he was suffering from back spasms and had to use Virender Sehwag as a runner.

Man-of-the-match Laxman said he was proud of his achievements. "It gives you a great feeling if you deliver when your team requires you the most. [Coach] Gary Kirsten told me in the morning that here is another opportunity for you to do it for Team India," he said.

Laxman also paid tribute to Tendulkar for helping him during a vital partnership. "It was crucial as it helped to get the momentum back to our side," Laxman said. "After two Tests the team pulled it back. The bowlers helped us to get back into the match on the second day. It was a team effort that helped us achieve this great victory."

India's captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was also keen to see the bowlers given their due. "Lots of things were said about our bowling attack after the First Test," he said. "Our batsmen also faced criticism for not stepping up to handle the pressure but our bowlers did a great job."

Sri Lanka had gone into the final day as slight favourites and made the early breakthrough when Sharma flicked a Randiv delivery to Kumar Sangakkara at short mid-wicket.

The hosts missed a good chance to turn the screw further when Tendulkar, playing in his record 169th Test, was dropped by Tillakaratne Dilshan at short leg with only 18 runs to his name.

India made the most of this reprieve, with the stand between Tendulkar and Laxman turning the match. Tendulkar reached his 56th Test half- century in the last over before lunch, with Laxman reaching his own 50 immediately after the restart.

The partnership came to an end when Tendulkar was caught behind attempting a sweep, helping Randiv to claim his first five-wicket haul in only his second Test. But Suresh Raina took the game to Sri Lanka, particularly against the spinners, and lofted Dilshan over mid-wicket to reduce the target to 50.

With victory in sight, both batsmen upped the scoring rate. Laxman's century was reached with back-to-back boundaries off Ajantha Mendis, and shortly afterwards Raina sealed the win with a six over mid-wicket off the bowling of Chanaka Welegedara.

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