x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Can India's batsmen laugh last?

India took a slender lead but Sri Lanka have a slight edge because the visitors have rarely ever succeeded in fourth-innings chases.

Lasith Malinga, left, the Sri Lanka paceman, took his 100th Test wicket yesterday when he dismissed India's Sachin Tendulkar, right.
Lasith Malinga, left, the Sri Lanka paceman, took his 100th Test wicket yesterday when he dismissed India's Sachin Tendulkar, right.

After day three of enthralling cricket, the third Test at the P Sara Oval in Colombo would appear evenly poised, but Sri Lanka probably just have the edge. Most teams in world cricket generally struggle chasing targets in Test matches, and India will be well aware they have to bat last on a wearing track. The portents are not encouraging. In 440 previous Test matches they have batted fourth on 138 occasions, winning 38 and losing 51 of those games.

Of course, one of their most memorable wins came batting fourth, when they chased 406 against a fearsome West Indies pace battery at Port of Spain in 1976. There have been only six other successful run-chases in excess of 200, with the 387 for four against England at Chennai in 2008 being their second best effort. In the past five years, these statistics have been a bit more favourable with eight wins from 20 fourth-innings chases and six defeats, but the individual statistics of India's batsmen would suggest batting last is not their speciality. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar have scored a total of 25,266 runs in Test cricket, but only 2,540 of those runs have come in the fourth innings of a five-day game. The two veterans have 77 Test centuries between them, but only four when batting last.

Tendulkar's overall tally before the start of this Test stood at 13,783 runs, scored at an average of 56.02 in 275 innings, with 48 centuries. In the fourth innings, the aggregate is 1,212 runs from 46 innings at an average of 36.72 and three centuries. Dravid has scored 11,483 runs in Test cricket at an average of 53.16, with 29 centuries from 244 innings. Batting on 46 occasions in the fourth innings, his aggregate is 1,328 runs at 44.26 and one lone century.

Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni have yet to hit a ton in the fourth innings of a Test and their averages are all in the lower 30s. Sehwag's top score in the fourth innings is 83 and his aggregate 546 from 22 innings at an average of 30.33. His overall figures read 134 innings, 7,039 runs, 21 centuries, a top score of 319 and an average of 54.56. Laxman has scored 7,312 runs in 185 Test innings at an average of 46.57 with a top score of 281. Batting 28 times in the fourth innings, his average dips to 31.77, with 699 runs and a top score of 74.

Dhoni has batted in the fourth innings just eight times and has 228 runs from them with a top score 76. Given these statistics, the India captain will hope they can restrict Sri Lanka to less than 300, if not 250. The India bowlers know they can erase the chastening they endured in the first Two Tests by claiming the final eight Sri Lanka wickets cheaply this morning while the vaunted India batting line-up can set the record straight regarding their ability to chase runs. The next two days promises to be compelling viewing. @Email:arizvi@thenational.ae

Scoreboard and earlier report