Lankans battle but India have upper hand
181-run partnership lifts morale of visitors before hosts fight back & keep them to 356/9 at stumps
Without the five dropped catches that India produced in Sri Lanka's first innings of the third and final Test, being played at Feroze Shah Kotla, the story of this match would have been no different from what we have become accustomed to in the last few weeks.
But, as it is, the visitors were able to capitalize on these lives given to them and finally produced a batting effort which provided an intriguing contest for the fans to enjoy, ending the day on 356/9, still trailing India by 180 runs. Not surprisingly, it were the two pillars of the Sri Lankan batting line-up, Angelo Matthews (111) and captain Dinesh Chandimal (147*), who propped up the innings with their hundreds and avoided the follow-on. This, in the end, could prove to be very crucial in determining the result of the match.
With the pitch not having much assistance for the bowlers and two set batsmen at the crease, there was hope of a fight back from Sri Lanka and they didn't disappoint this time.
For Matthews it was a struggle dealing with some good overs from the seam bowlers. But he persevered and after being dropped on 98, against the same bowler — Ishant Sharma — off whose bowling he had given a chance to Virat Kohli on Sunday, reached a hundred that would come as a huge relief to the former skipper.
At one stage in his career, after he took over the captaincy of his team, Matthews had seemed unstoppable with the bat. But things went pear-shaped for Matthews in the last few months with the team suffering defeats and his own form taking a dive. In that context, his first hundred in more than two years would give his team and its fans relief and hope that he could regain his old form and help in his team's recovery.
While the former captain battled through, current skipper Chandimal showed the fluency and ability that marked him many years ago as a future Sri Lankan batting star. The gracefulness of his strokes and the ease with which he milked the bowling showed him as a class apart from the rest of the batting line-up.
The surprising element on Day 3 was the very late introduction into the attack of Ravichandran Ashwin. The offie was brought into the attack only in the second session of the day but when he bowled, he troubled Matthews considerably.
He eventually got Matthews' scalp in the 98th over when a delivery that held its line got the Sri Lankan's outside edge and was caught by Saha. Matthews was dismissed on 111 bringing curtains down on a partnership of 181 for the fourth wicket with the team's score at 256.
Indian bowlers managed only one wicket in first two sessions but with a big stand broken, there were hopes of the floodgates opening in the last one. They didn't immediately as early on in the session, Chandimal completed his century when he pushed Ashwin into the covers for a single. His hundred came off 265 balls laced with 13 fours.
Opener Sadeera Samarawickrama, who couldn't bat on Day 2 due to a head injury, came out to bat at the fall of Matthews wicket and along with Chandimal kept the innings moving at a steady pace.
The two spinners were now bowling in tandem and in their usual style. Jadeja wheeling away at a tight line and length and not giving any easy runs while Ashwin constantly changing his line and length to trouble the batsman.
Jadeja wasn't looking penetrative and Ashwin was occasionally erring in his line. Soon Samarawickrama, after initially looking tentative, went after Ashwin and got some boundaries while Chandimal, at the other end, seemed untroubled and was milking the bowling with ease.
The partnership accumulated more than 50 runs prompting Kohli to bring in Ishant Sharma in place of Jadeja for a breakthrough.
And the move worked as Sadeera edged a delivery that seamed a little and Wriddhiman Saha took a dazzling one-handed catch diving to his right and pouching the ball inches off the ground. This ended the 61-run entertaining partnership at the score of 317.
Ishant was bowling a nice hostile spell with pace and bounce along with a bit of seam movement.
Ashwin soon picked up the wicket of Silva through an inside edge which lobbed up off the pad to the short-leg fielder and then bowled Niroshan Dickwella to put Sri Lanka back in a precarious position.
Interestingly, Ashwin looked most threatening when he was bowling the traditional off spinners' line outside the off stump which made one wonder why he was experimenting so much earlier.
Kohli then made another successful move by bringing Shami into the attack. He justified the decision with the wicket of Lakmal when he got a delivery to seam a little and take the edge for Saha to take another brilliant catch diving to his right, this time with both hands. The visitors were now in danger of not avoiding the follow-on.
Ashwin was looking dangerous for the lower order batsmen and Kohli decided to bring Jadeja from the other end to hasten Sri Lanka's decline. This move too succeeded when he trapped Lahiru Gamage in front of the stumps in the 127th over though by that time the touring side had avoided the follow-on. With just one wicket in hand, Chandimal decided to farm the strike and earn some boundaries. He showed respect to Jadeja but twice came down the wicket to Ashwin and lofted him towards mid-wicket for a four and a six.
Bad light ended play around 5 minutes before the scheduled time with skipper Chandimal remaining unbeaten on 147 and last man Lakshan Sandakan yet to open his account.
While the Lankan lower order undid the good work of Matthews and Chandimal to a considerable extent by collapsing from 317/4 to 356/9 at the end of the day, the visitors would be entertaining the possibility of a draw with just two days remaining on this flat pitch.
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