For a while, Sri Lanka looked to be on their way to making India bat. After Kusal Mendis’ delightful hundred on Day 3, it was Dimuth Karunaratne’s turn to ensure that Sri Lanka’s resolute batting remained the centre of attraction of this match, who did so with a magnificent sixth Test century.
But that was only until the first session. Post it, a familiar narrative unfolded, where Indian spinners ran the hosts ragged. The ‘grenade-like’ surface became only more cumbersome for Sri Lanka to tackle and Ravindra Jadeja picked the bones with a ninth career five-wicket haul. Sri Lanka’s lion-hearted second-innings effort was cut short for 386, giving India a win by an innings and 53 runs as they went on to register their second series win over Sri Lanka in two years. They lead the series 2-0 with one match to go.
By lunch, two wickets in quick succession looked threatening but the most experienced batsman of the side, Angelo Mathews stepped up to offer astute and halt India’s plans of producing a repeat of picking up eight wickets in a session. Karunaratne and Mathews’ unbeaten 69-run stand offered Sri Lanka resistance but hopes were dashed when both were dismissed one after the other soon into the second session.
That India were made to wait was their doing. Once again, it was the close-in catching that let them down. KL Rahul dropped a sharp chance at shot leg of Karunaratne. This was after an edge off nightwatchman Malinda Pushpakumara’s bat flew between Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli at first and second slips. India were kept waiting even though numerous balls came perilously close to taking the outside edge. Thankfully for Sri Lanka, none barring those two did.The man of
the hour was Karunaratne. Having proved his mettle against the likes of pacers Tim Southee and Trent Boult in New Zealand earlier this year, he displayed tremendous fortitude to tackle the spin of Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin, and through a boundary down the ground, brought up one of his better centuries in whites. This was also the first instance of two Sri Lankan batsmen scoring century while following-on.
Sri Lanka seemed to be racing away with the advantage of playing a spotless session. But that wasn’t to be. Pushpakumara, after offering stubborn resistance for over 50 deliveries, played a poor reverse one drive and had his stumps knocked over by Ashwin for his first of the innings. A repeat of a slide appeared imminent when next over, skipper Dinesh Chandimal endured his second failure of the match and offered a catch to Rahane off Jadeja.
Mathews’ first delivery spit fire but that was that. He took the attack to Jadeja, who has now conceded almost 200 runs in the match for three wickets. He took him for a four and six in and the intentions were clear. At the other end, there was nothing India could do to budge Karunaratne, who was absolute rock-solid in his defense. When the opportunity arrived, he never missed to send it crashing to the fence.
The new ball was shared by Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami, and later Jadeja and Ashwin, but it was negotiated without any harm. But once the second session began, it was a whole different ball game. Jadeja, with assist from the pitch produced an unplayable ball, to which Karunaratne offered his glove and was out caught. An even bigger blow came in Jadeja’s next, when Wriddhiman Saha, maintaining his stellar form behind the wicket, held on to a sharp outside edge off Mathews.
And the wheels came off. Dilruwan Perera and Dhananjaya de Silva and Niroshan Dickwella entertained, but that wasn’t going to give Sri Lanka the miraculous escape they were hoping for. First-innings half-centurion Dickwella and Rangana Herath delayed the inevitable, to an extent that they swept and reverse-swept Jadeja out of the attack. Pandya and Ashwin then struck in consecutive overs to give India their eighth consecutive series win, making Kohli the first Indian captain to win two different Test series in Sri Lanka. (Courtesy Times of India)