Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Mathews compiled contrasting fifties and shared a 99-run partnership that put Sri Lanka in the ascendancy of the Kolkata Test, cutting their deficit to just 7 by stumps on the third day.
They were united with the score on 34 for 2 but neither batsman chose to counterattack considering the plausibility of one delivery beating their defenses. They left well and allowed themselves to be beaten several times by playing the line, not pushing their hands too far in front of them. Soon, India’s seamers erred, looking for more than was required, with half-volleys and short and wide offerings and the boundaries flowed.
Just like for Sri Lanka, India’s seamers generated lateral movement from the outset. Bhuvneshwar Kumar produced swing both ways, while Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav used seam off the pitch. In addition to the two early wickets, they found a couple late in the day to ensure they didn’t fall too far behind.
Despite sufficient movement, Sadeera Samarawickrama, promoted to open, batted fluently. Displaying a compact technique and languid elegance, he struck three fours on either side of the wicket in his 23. But continuing to hit through the line with the ball hooping just enough was an approach fraught with risk. Bhuvneshwar duly found his outside edge as he played away from his body.
Thirimanne and Mathews then swung the game in Sri Lanka’s favour. Still on this surface, they needed luck. Bhuvneshwar kept penetrating Mathews’ inside edge, hitting him on both pads. A shorter length, though, meant he survived lbw shouts due to the extra bounce. Umesh even found Thirimanne’s outside edge, but Shikhar Dhawan spilled a simple catch at first slip.
Just after tea though, Umesh hit rhythm and cranked up the pace. An inswinger from around the wicket held its line, took Thirimanne’s outside edge and carried low to Virat Kohli’s left at second slip, who hung onto a sharp chance. Then, Mathews lost his concentration and chipped a catch to cover, his balance thrown off completely by a transfer of weight on the back foot, anticipating a shorter length.
With the light fading and the ball continuing to move, Dinesh Chandimal was repeatedly beaten on both edges during his 33-ball scrap. He was given relief shortly after 4pm local when bad light forced early stumps for the third straight day.
It was Sri Lanka’s seamers that had earlier given the visitors a chance. Swing had ceased without any cloud cover. But on a grassy pitch, Lahiru Gamage and Suranga Lakmal used the prevailing seaming conditions to bowl India out for 172. Dilruwan Perera chipped in with a double-wicket over to remove Ravindra Jadeja and Wriddhiman Saha, India’s only set batsmen on the third day.
Resuming on 47, Cheteshwar Pujara swept a wayward delivery from Rangana Herath to move to one of his toughest Test fifties at home. The sun came out soon after, and India’s overall outlook seemed brighter.
That was when Pujara erred for the first time this Test, mentally more than in technique. Overhead conditions had improved drastically, but underfoot it remained treacherous. Pujara poked at a full delivery from Gamage – with bat away from pad as opposed to his usual bat-close-to-body approach – possibly aware that swing had ceased. It created a big bat-pad gap. The ball jagged back prodigiously after pitching and uprooted off stump.
Saha, at the other end, displayed terrific awareness of which deliveries to play. He routinely let full, wide balls go, but went after fuller, wider deliveries, hitting six fours in his 29. Along with Jadeja, who also picked only full or wide deliveries to attack, carried India past 100, their first landmark of the day in a 48-run stand, the highest of the innings.
Dilruwan, introduced in the 44th over, found his offbreaks wouldn’t turn. So he began under-cutting them to generate drift and open up the outside edge. There was immediate success. Dilruwan had Jadeja lbw to a ball that slid on to strike his pad before bat. Umpire Joel Wilson’s not-out verdict was overturned on review. Three balls later, Saha top-edged an attempted sweep onto his forearm, which lobbed to slip.
India’s tail swung freely, carrying them from 128 for 8 to 172, but as Sri Lanka’s middle order showed, it may be under par. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)