Virender Sehwag blasted a quickfire, unbeaten 128 as India squandered a flying start, losing four wickets in 20 balls, on a rain-truncated opening day of the second Test against Sri Lanka in Galle on Thursday.
The flamboyant Sehwag notched his 15th Test century, but India, who were cruising along comfortably at 167 for no loss, lost four wickets in quick succession before being reduced to 214 for 4 when play was called off early because of bad light.
The complexion of the game changed abruptly after play resumed following a rain interruption, as paceman Chaminda Vaas and 'mystery' spinner Ajantha Mendis ripped through the top order to help the islanders claw back brilliantly.
While Sehwag played with characteristic flair, the quick dismissals of opener Gautam Gambhir (56), Rahul Dravid (2), Sachin Tendulkar (5) and Sourav Ganguly (0) dented India's hopes of posting a big first innings total on what appeared to be a good batting strip at the Galle International stadium.
The stylish VVS Laxman (13) was giving Sehwag company at stumps. Only 44.3 overs were bowled during the day.
The visitors, who desperately need to win the match to keep themselves afloat in the three-match series, have to now bank on the last recognised pair of Sehwag and Laxman to put up a decent total.
The Indians showed signs of making amends for their Colombo debacle in the pre-lunch session as Sehwag and Gambhir plundered runs at will to score 151.
Play was held up after the lunch break because of rain, and when it resumed, the balance tilted in favour of the home team, which exploited the overcast conditions well.
The dismissal of Gambhir started the slide. The Delhi batsman was trapped leg before by Mendis. Gambhir asked for a review but it did not change his luck as the television umpire upheld the on-field umpire's decision.
Rahul Dravid, who has been struggling to find his form, again fell prey to Mendis. He failed to keep the ball on the ground and Malinda Warnapura took the catch at short leg much to the delight of his teammates.
The hosts then scalped the prized wicket of Tendulkar, who was trapped leg before by Vaas.
Sourav Ganguly did not trouble the scorers much as edged an away swinger from Vaas to Prasanna Jayawardene behind the wicket. India were reduced to a precarious 178 for four.
Sehwag and Laxman ensured that there were no further setbacks for the tourists as they took the team beyond the 200 mark.
It was a stunning exhibition of stroke-play by Sehwag, who unleashed 19 boundaries and two sixes during his unfinished knock, unaffected by wickets tumbling around him.
The way India began, it looked an altogether different ball game after the humiliating innings defeat in the first Test in Colombo. Both Sehwag and Gambhir negotiated the twin-threat of Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan confidently.
Sehwag survived a third umpire review before shaping his innings with elegance as well as aggression, albeit controlled.
Gambhir got a life when he was on 13 and ensured the he cashed in on the chance to deny Sri Lanka further opportunity.
He took 92 balls to raise his fourth Test fifty while Sehwag was in prime form, needing just 87 balls to complete his 15th Test century.
Even the magical Muralitharan was rendered ordinary as Sehwag scored boundaries off the spinner quite freely.
Earlier, Nuwan Kulasekara tested both the Indian openers with his pace, bounce, good line and length, deceiving them a number of times in his opening spell.
However, the paceman was unlucky as Sehwag and Gambhir missed the edge on many occasions and the deliveries that got the edge either did not carry or dropped in front of the fielders.
Gambhir went for a flashy shot outside the off-stump and got thin edge towards first slip, but Kumar Sangakkara could not hold on to the chance as wicketkeeper Prasnna Jayawardene blocked his view as he dived across for the catch.