COLOMBO: The red cherry has held centre stage on this Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) green top and every batsman is dancing to its tune. The technique to handle the seaming ball has been so suspect that this rain-hit third Test suddenly came alive on the third day. A total of 15 wickets went down on a dramatic Sunday as India finished the day 132 runs ahead of Sri Lanka with seven wickets standing.
After closing their first innings at 312, the visitors bundled out Lanka for 201 to get a 111-run first innings lead. What they didn’t bargain for was the new ball in the second innings as well. Cheteshwar Pujara (145 not out, 289b, 14×4), who in the first innings had become the only the fourth Indian batsman to carry his bat through the innings. Ironically, in the second essay, he got an absolute peach of a delivery from Dhammika Prasad and walked away with a duck.
Batsmen from both the sides have failed to answer the questions posed by the questions posed by the moving ball, barring Pujara in the first innings. Opener KL Rahul had a shocker of a day. He first dropped two catches, and then shouldered arms in identical fashion to the first innings, this time to Nuwan Pradeep, to lose his off-stump. No. 3 Ajinkya Rahane (4) was too eager to jump on to the front foot; he failed to account for the seam movement into him and was caught plumb in front as India slid to 7 for 3. India managed to recover slightly to end at 21 for 3.
In the morning, it was Ishant Sharma (5/44) and friends giving back what they got from Sri Lanka, bundling out the hosts for just 201. The intent of the Indians was clear. They wanted to bowl on this fresh track as soon as possible and Ishant, in particular, made the ball talk. New Lankan opener Upul Tharanga was dropped in the first over by KL Rahul at second slip in Ishant’s first over but soon edged to the same man and Rahul made no mistake this time.
It was a procession from there on as Kaushal Silva became the second opener in this match, after Rahul in both innings, to shoulder arms and repent – he dragged the ball on to his stumps. In-form batsman Dinesh Chandimal (23), relieved of his wicket-keeping duties, was promoted to the No. 4 spot and looked in sublime touch during his 27-ball stay. But luck went India’s way when Stuart Binny trapped him leg-before with the ball appearing to have struck him a little high. It was Ishant’s show from then on. The Delhi pacer forced skipper Angelo Mathews (0) to nick one behind, and then Dimuth Karunaratne (11) slashed at Binny to edge to second slip. The home team went into lunch at 47 for 5.
Ishant struck immediately after lunch to send back Lahiru Thirimanne (0) and then a fiery short ball hit Dhammika Prasad (27) on his left hand, the painful blow sending him to the dressing room. Then came the brief revival as debutant Kushal Perera (55, 56b, 9×4) and Rangana Herath (49, 84b, 8×4) threw caution to the winds. The fireworks could have been cut short if Rahul hadn’t dropped a sitter at second slip with Perera on 11.The eighth-wicket pair put on 79 runs to raise the frustration metre of the Indian team. Ishant, who picked up his seventh five-wicket haul, finally ended the stand and then also got Herath, Naman Ojha taking a fine, diving catch.
Although another burst of rain cut short play, the match is heading for a result. If India can ride the storm on Monday morning, a bid for victory is not out of reach. However, a slip now and Sri Lanka will again sneak through like they did in the first Test in Galle.