Galle (Sri Lanka): India were faced with a daunting task of saving the first cricket Test after spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan scalped six wickets in his last match to put Sri Lanka within sniffing distance of a victory here on Wednesday.
Muralitharan claimed of 5 for 63 in the first innings and added another wicket in the second to be just two short of the 800-mark as India were skittled out for 276 in their first innings in response to the home team`s total of 520 for eight declared.
Asked to follow on, the Indians were struggling at 181 for five at close on an eventful penultimate day, still needing 63 runs to avoid the embarassment of an innings defeat.
The visitors lost Gautam Gambhir (0) and first innings centurion Virender Sehwag (31) early but the experienced duo of Rahul Dravid (44) and Sachin Tendulkar (84) steadied the innings to some extent with a 119-run partnership.
But both Dravid and Tendulkar`s dismissal at the fag end of the day off Lasith Malinga swung the game decisively in Sri Lanka`s favour. Then Yuvraj Singh (5) perished just before close of play to compound India`s misery.
With one day remaining in the rain-hit Test, the Indians will have to bat out of their skin to save the match and much will depend on how long VVS Laxman and M S Dhoni can hold fort tomorrow.
Like on all the other days, the hosts dominated the proceedings by first dismissing the Indians cheaply in the first innings and tightening the grip on the match by evicting the two openers in quick succesion.
India largely relied on Sehwag, who notched up his 20th Test century, while Yuvraj Singh (52) and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (33) were the other notable scorers in the first innings.
Earlier, resuming at the overnight score of 140 for three, the Indians lost wickets at regular intervals in the pre-lunch session to allow the home team to gain complete control.
Sehwag resumed at his overnight score of 85 and got out soon after completing his hundred much to the disappointment of his teammates.
At the start, Sehwag was his usual aggressive self as he dispatched paceman Chanaka Welegedara to the boundary twice and then gave a similar treatment to Angelo Mathews to reach his century.
He continued his good show at this venue, where he had scored a double hundred in 2008, and his hundred came in quick time, off just 108 balls and with 18 fours and a six.
While Sehwag was batting aggressively, VVS Laxman at the other end was happy rotating the strike. The Delhi batsman paid price when he chased a widish delivery from Welegedara and ended in the hands of Tharanga Paranavitana at first slip.
Yuvraj came to the crease but Laxman`s stay was cut shot when he fell to Lasith Malinga.
Yuvraj and Dhoni stemmed the rot by raising a 74-run stand for the sixth wicket and almost put India`s campaign back on track. However, Murailtharan accounted for both of them in successive overs and again India were in trouble.
The off-spinner first bowled Dhoni with a viciously spinning ball and then had Yuvraj caught by Mahela Jayawardene in slip cordon.
Resuming at 260 for eight, India lost both the wickets -- Pragyan Ojha (3) and Abhimnayu Mithun (8) -- to the guile of Muralitharan and the champion bowlers inched closer to becoming the first bowler in Test cricket capture 800 wickets.
Following on and trailing by a huge 244 runs, India`s second essay was far from impressive as both the openers -- Gautam Gambhir (0) and Virender Sehwag (31) -- were back in the pavilion before the tea break.
Coming in to bat with a dauting task, Gambhir yet again failed miserably, falling in the first over to Lasith Malinga for the second consecutive time in this Test.
He had not even opened his account when Malinga had him caught behind.
Malinga almost had Sehwag in his next over but for a no-ball. The paceman brilliantly caught Sehwag`s uppish straight drive in his follow through but had over-stepped.
Sehwag responded with two boundaries after that in the same over. He was on song and hit Chanaka Welegedara for two boundaries until he became victim of the same bowler.
Before falling to a stunner by Mahela Jayawardene, he hit six boundaries and had he kept his cool and restrained himself India could have been in a better position.
The seasoned duo of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar then steadied the innings to some extent by batting cautiously on a track which was still good for batting.
The two batsmen did not take any risks at all and were quite content in keeping the scoreboard moving with gentle pushes and nudges.
Tendulkar was the more dominant of the two batsmen and was prompt to punish the loose deliveries to the boundary.
Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara brought in retiring spinner Muralitharan into the attack quite late in the second innings but the two experienced batsmen had no difficulty in negotiating him.