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Published: Wednesday, August 1, 2001, 23:53 [IST]
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Kandy: Sri Lanka's Muthiah Muralitharan smashed a career-best 67 off 65 balls amidst an Indian revival to leave the second cricket Test poised on a knife's edge on Friday.[an error occurred while processing this directive]The Kandy-based spinner's pugnacious batting helped Sri Lanka recover from 157-9 to 221 in its second knock, setting India a victory target of 264 to level the three-match series. Muralitharan then clean bowled opener Shiv Das for 19 as India closed the third day's play at 55-1.Sadagopan Ramesh was unbeaten on 15 and Rahul Dravid was on 11 when bad light forced stumps to be drawn 16 overs early. Muralitharan will have a key role to play with the ball when India start the fourth day needing a further 209 runs with nine wickets in hand.The versatile off spinner is Sri Lanka's best bet on the wearing wicket at the Asgiriya Stadium that is beginning to keep low and assist turn. India, trailing by 42 runs on the first innings, bounced back through seamers Venkatesh Prasad and Zaheer Khan during an absorbing day's play. Prasad finished with 5-72, his seventh five-wicket haul from 32 Tests, while left-armer Zaheer claimed 4-76.Sri Lanka's lead was just 199 when Muralitharan launched a spectacular attack on the Indian bowlers after tea, hitting five boundaries and three sixes. He scoffed at the defensive field set by Indian captain Saurav Ganguly to become the highest scorer in Sri Lanka's second innings.Last man Ruchira Perera contributed just six in a record 10th-wicket stand of 64 with Muralitharan, who surpassed his previous best of 39 against India in Colombo in 1997.It was Sri Lanka's highest last-wicket stand against India, surpassing the 44 by current bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake and Test umpire Asoka De Silva in 1986 at Nagpur.Muralitharan's heroics came after a spirited fight-back by the Indian seamers, who ripped through the Sri Lankan batting in the first two sessions.Zaheer, who claimed three wickets in the first innings and removed the dangerous Sanath Jayasuriya late on Thursday evening, struck with the third delivery of the day.Moving the ball about in overcast conditions, Zaheer forced Kumar Sangakkara to edge a catch to wicket-keeper Sameer Dighe. Dighe then dived to his right to pick up a low catch to remove the other overnight batsman, Marvan Atapattu (45) off Prasad and make Sri Lanka 84-3.Jayawardene, who hit 104 in the first innings, made 25 when Zaheer, returning for his second spell, had him edging a catch to Hemang Badani at second slip. Russel Arnold opened his account by driving Harvinder Singh to the mid-off fence, but those were his only runs as Zaheer trapped him lbw before with a ball that dipped in sharply from outside the off stump.Sri Lanka went to lunch at 124-5 and would have lost another wicket at that score had Hemang Badani not spilled Suresh Perera at second slip off skipper Saurav Ganguly.Badani, however, made amends a few overs later when he took a low catch in the same position off Prasad to get rid of Perera for 15.Prasad then trapped Hashan Tillekeratne leg-before for 16 to reduce Sri Lanka to 140-7 - just 182 runs ahead.Muralitharan delighted his home crowd by smashing the first ball from Prasad to the mid-wicket fence before hooking the last ball of the over for six. Muralitharan saw Prasad claim Chaminda Vaas leg-before and rattle Dilhara Fernando's stumps, but still managed to strike the same bowler for a four and six in the company of last man Ruchira Perera.

Copyright AFP 2001

Murali takes honours, India needs 209
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