Gritty Sri Lanka leave India a mountain to climb

COLOMBO: India's renowned batsmen were handed a stern challenge to secure a series-levelling win in the final Test after Sri Lanka fought hard with both bat and ball on Friday.

India, set a victory target of 257, ended the rousing fourth day's play on 53-3 in their second innings, following a triple strike by lanky off-spinner Suraj Randiv.

Randiv, sharing the new ball with Lasith Malinga, had in-form Virender Sehwag caught in the slips in his first over and later bowled Rahul Dravid off the inside edge for seven.

He then dismissed opener Murali Vijay for 27 to a disputed catch at short-leg by Mahela Jayawardene, which was referred to the television umpire before the batsman was ruled out.

Sachin Tendulkar, the world's leading run-getter playing a record 169th Test match, kept India's hopes alive with a watchful unbeaten 11.

Nightwatchman Ishant Sharma was on two, with India needing 204 more runs on the final day with seven wickets in hand.

Sri Lanka made 267 in their second innings after a spectacular century partnership for the ninth wicket between Thilan Samaraweera and Ajantha Mendis.

India's spinners had sparked a dramatic collapse in the morning session as five wickets fell for 24 runs to reduce the hosts to 87-7 in an hour's play.

But the last three wickets added 180 runs to frustrate the Indians as Samaraweera followed his century in the first innings with a fighting 83 in the company of tailenders.

Samaraweera added 38 runs for the eighth wicket with Lasith Malinga (15) and Sri Lanka's record ninth-wicket stand of 118 with Mendis (78).

The duo flayed the Indian attack for two hours and 32 minutes before the partnership was broken in the first over with the second new ball.

Samaraweera attempted to pull a short ball from Abhimanyu Mithun and gloved a catch to Indian captain Mahendra Dhoni behind the stumps.

Mendis, who hit 10 boundaries and a six in his maiden half-century, scored 20 runs in the company of last man Chanaka Welegedara before being held in the covers off Amit Mishra.

India's three spinners, Pragyan Ojha, Mishra and Sehwag, claimed three wickets each on a pitch that affored turn and bounce to the bowlers.

Sri Lanka added 18 runs to their overnight score of 45-2 when Ojha trapped nightwatchman Randiv leg-before for six, one ball after Dhoni dropped a simple catch behind the stumps.

Ojha then dealt two deadly blows in successive overs, getting rid of Sri Lanka's batting mainstays, Mahela Jayawardene (five) and skipper Kumar Sangakkara (28).

It was the Sri Lankan captain's first failure in the series after making 103 in the first Test, 219 and 42 not out in the second and 75 in the first innings of this match.

Mishra removed Angelo Mathews and Prasanna Jayawardene with consecutive deliveries, but Malinga prevented the hat-trick.