Sunday saw a rare occurrence in Indian cricket as the pace trio of Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav shared all 10 Sri Lankan scalps between them. However, resuming at 165 for four, Sri Lanka still managed 294, taking a 122-run first innings lead.
Rangana Herath’s third half-century (67) in his 86th Test played a huge part in the visitors achieving a substantial lead. He played and missed — four times in one particular over — but nine fours in his innings attested to a positive intent. India had reduced Sri Lanka to 201 for seven, as Kumar and Shami continued to make the ball talk on the fourth morning. But a lower-order batsman frustrated them, helping the tail wag and frustrating the hosts.
For the first two-and-a-half days, batting at times felt like a lottery. The ball moving in the air and seaming off the deck made batsmen hop, skip, miss and poke. Only Cheteshwar Pujara in the Indian team and Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Mathews somewhat got a grip on conditions. However on Sunday, KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan stitched a 166-run opening wicket partnership in India’s second innings, comfortably erasing the lead. At stumps, the hosts were 171 for one, going at 4.32 runs per over. Barely a ball beat the outside edge during India’s second innings. The only time Rahul looked uncertain was when a Suranga Lakmal in-dipper cut him in half, sneaked past the inside edge and narrowly missed the leg stump. By then, the pitch had started behaving like a conventional Eden surface.
Pujara came after Dhawan’s dismissal and was unbeaten on two at stumps. When he resumes his innings on the fifth day, he will become the third Indian batsman after ML Jaisimha and Ravi Shastri to bat on all five days. Going by previous instances even this is normal, by Eden standards.
After the day’s play, Bhuvneshwar said the pitch “totally changed” on Sunday. He also admitted that the Indian pacers at times tried a little “too hard”, conceding boundaries in the process.
Shami took the first wicket of the day, landing the ball in the corridor and making it rear off the surface. Niroshan Dickwella tamely poked it to Virat Kohli at second slip. Dasun Shanaka didn’t pick a Kumar in-swinger, shouldered arms and the ball struck his back pad in front of middle stump. Although the Sri Lanka all-rounder reviewed the on-field umpire’s decision, he was given out on umpire’s call.
Dinesh Chandimal was struggling against Shami. The Bengal quick eventually relieved the Sri Lanka captain of his troubles with a beauty of an out-swinger, Wriddhiman Saha taking the catch behind the stumps.
Then, a controversial moment arrived; in the 57th over. Shami, in the middle of a lovely spell, nipped one back to Dilruwan Perera and apparently caught him plumb in front. The leg-before appeal was upheld by umpire Nigel Llong. Perera looked at non-striker Herath and started to walk back, stopping after a few paces, turning and asking for a review. The Hawk-Eye showed the ball struck him marginally outside the line of off stump and the batsman survived. He was yet to open his account then and his team had been struggling at 208 for seven. Perera got out for five, but his DRS call created enough scope for controversy about whether he received guidance from the dressing room.
Sting in the tail
Herath added 43 runs for the eighth wicket with Perera and then 46 for the ninth with Lakmal. The veteran took advantage of the Indian bowling going awry a bit as the tail-enders gelled. Umesh tried to bounce out Herath and was dispatched to the cover boundary. Kumar hit Lakmal on the grille with a bouncer. But when he bowled another one, Lakmal calmly pulled it to the square leg fence. In a desperate attempt to break the partnerships, even Kohli bowled. Herath gleefully sent a full-toss to the backward square leg boundary.
Finally, Bhuvneshwar dismissed Herath and then Shami castled Lakmal to return with four wickets. Bhuvneshwar, too, bagged four, while Yadav had two scalps to show for his efforts.
A good opening stand was essential from India’s point of view in the second innings. After Dhawan’s dismissal in the first dig, questions had been raised on his ability to perform in seaming conditions. He was dismissed trying to play an expansive drive. But the left-hander showed character to silence his critics, without eschewing his shots. His 94 runs came off just 116 balls, with 11 fours and two sixes. Dancing down to Herath and hitting him over long-on was special.
Rahul, on the other hand, was aggressive right from the outset, taking three fours in Lahiru Gamage’s first over. Dhawan batted with the authority he showed during his two Test hundreds in Sri Lanka three months back. Rahul romped to his eighth half-century in nine innings and remained unbeaten on 73 at the end of the day’s play.
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