India will still look at the turning track with some circumspection, but their bowlers – led by R Ashwin’s second successive five-for and his best figures away from home – did a stellar job to seemingly neutralise Sri Lanka’s advantage of batting first. While Ashwin ran through the left-hand batsmen, including Kumar Sangakkara for 5 in his penultimate Test, the two right-hand batsmen – Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal – gave Sri Lanka a total to play with on a pitch that offered appreciable turn and bounce in as early as the first session of the Test, reports Cricinfo.
India took excellent catches, but dropped two sitters, one of which – Chandimal, on 5 with the score 66 for 5 – combined with some inexplicable captaincy in the second session to let Sri Lanka off the hook. The first dropped catch first. Slip catching has been pulling India back ever since the fab four retired, and Shikhar Dhawan continued the form by dropping Kaushal Silva in the fourth over. Virat Kohli will be happy, though, that Ishant Sharma and Varun Aaron continued with some hostile bowling to send back the openers without much damage. Dimuth Karunaratne edged while fending a bouncer from Ishant, and Silva was given out caught off the arm guard as he went to hook. Dhawan redeemed himself with a diving catch, but DRS would have made for an interesting decision.
That brought in Kumar Sangakkara, and exposed a whole bunch of left-hand batsmen to Ashwin, who hit his rhythm early. Brought on in the 12th over, Ashwin beat Sangakkara in the flight before a freak dismissal sent the celebrated veteran back. The third ball that Ashwin bowled was short of a length, drew a defensive shot from Sangakkara, which went fast towards KL Rahul at silly point. Rahul stayed low, pushed his hands in the general direction of the path of the ball, and it stuck in his fingertips. This was no edge, and nor did it come off the pad to soften the impact.
Lahiru Thirimanne looked to block, and captain Mathews – playing his 50th Test – looked to hit a few shots to get the close-in fielders out of his face. Having come together at 27 for 3, they doubled the score before Thirimanne fell to an Ashwin beauty. Until then Thirimanne had faced only four balls from the offspinner, and had looked really comfortable facing only one of them. The fifth one, though, was perfect: nicely flighted, dipping short of Thirimanne’s reach, and then turning away to take the edge on a tame push. Poor Mubarak got to face only Ashwin, and the seventh such delivery didn’t turn, bounced and resulted in a bat-pad catch. Mubarak’s duck made it 60 for 5, and the only consolation for the hosts going into lunch was that their last recognised pair was both right-hand batsmen: Mathews and Chandimal.
Soon after lunch the consolation was about to end. Ishant bowled beautifully, drew Chandimal’s edge with one that held its line, but Wriddhiman Saha dropped an absolute sitter. What was more disturbing for India was that Saha is showing a bit of a tendency to drop the easier ones. That was not the only time India took the eye off the game. Ashwin, 6-1-15-3 now, was taken out of the attack for the other offspinner Harbhajan Singh.
It would have been okay to give the fifth bowler a chance had Kohli not persisted with Harbhajan for too long. While Harbhajan showed no patience, often bowling round the wicket, often too straight, Kohli showed remarkable patience as Mathews and Chandimal added 79.
While Chandimal’s effort was charmed, Mathews played a calculated and clever innings. He attacked only to get the fielders out, and then picked the ones and twos easily. Finally Kohli gave in, and gave Ashwin the end he had taken the three earlier wickets from. The pay-off was immediate, but it needed an exceptional catch from Rohit Sharma. In his second over back, Ashwin got one to dip on Mathews, but the bat-pad looked destined to loop over forward short leg’s head. Rohit, though, sprung up, got a hand to it, and ended up deflecting it back towards the wicket. Now he dived back against his momentum, and took it one-handed.
The floodgates now opened. Only a breezy 24-run stand between Chandimal and the adventurous Rangana Herath – who scored 23 off 24 – resisted India’s march. The innings ended when Herath had had one slog too many, but his real job was only about to begin.