Tea: Sri Lanka 270 for 4 (Chandimal 98*, Samarawickrama 4*) trail India 536 for 7 dec by 266 runs
Angelo Mathews ended a long and difficult wait for his eighth Test hundred and Dinesh Chandimal moved to within two runs of his tenth, as Sri Lanka finally showed India the batting quality they had kept hidden away all through this tour. With generous fielders helping them along, captain and ex-captain added 181 in 79.1 overs before R Ashwin struck in the fifth over before tea to remind Sri Lanka of the task that still looms before them.
Two-thirds of the way into day three, Sri Lanka were 270 for 4, still trailing India by 266 runs.
Right since his belated introduction on the second afternoon – he only came on in the 28th over – Ashwin had worried Mathews with his round-the-wicket angle, getting the ball to dip on him and land on an awkward length that made it difficult to deal with his natural variation. Some balls turned in – occasionally sharply – while others carried on with the angle. The dismissal arrived courtesy the one that kept going across Mathews, who sent a thin edge through to Wriddhiman Saha.
It was a moment of joy for Ashwin, and perhaps one of vindication too, for this was only his 19th over of the innings. Ravindra Jadeja, at that point, had bowled 34, Ishant Sharma 23, and Mohammed Shami 22. Perhaps the presence of two right-hand batsmen at the crease for such a long period had made Virat Kohli reluctant to turn to his offspinner, but again he had shown his ability to threaten both edges of the bat.
By then, India had let Mathews off three times. Virat Kohli had shelled him on 6 on the second day, at second slip, and Rohit Sharma repeated the trick when he was on 98: at the same position, off the same bowler, Ishant, when Mathews made a similar mistake, poking away from his body without moving his feet. This was a straightforward chance, at chest height, when India had just taken the second new ball.
Then, on 104, Mathews looked to hit Jadeja over mid-off, but didn’t get the elevation he desired. Vijay Shankar, substituting for his near-namesake M Vijay, leaped in the air, got his fingers to the ball at full stretch, and failed to hold on.
It was that kind of innings for Mathews, an innings defined by struggle. In the first hour, he was beaten more than once by Shami, who bowled another spell of testing line, the odd bouncer, and just a touch of seam movement, all at high pace, and miscued a pull into no-man’s land. Camped on the back foot against Ishant Sharma, he reached out for full balls and skewed and sliced them squarer than intended.
As the session wore on, Ishant packed the leg side and peppered him with short balls. Perhaps he overdid it, but there were still a few awkward moments, such as a pull that flashed narrowly wide of the man at short fine leg.
But Mathews grew in assurance thereafter, utilising all his know-how to keep India’s bowlers out, but it was seldom pretty. He was quick to punish anything on his legs, and targeted Ashwin for his rare flashes of adventure, such as a delicate lap-sweep to go from 83 to 87. Otherwise, it was sheer, stubborn resistance.
Like Mathews, Chandimal was troubled by Shami early on. A short ball from wide of the crease smacked him on the glove, and three balls later he was a little slow getting on the front foot to a full ball in the channel, the resultant edge falling short of first slip. At one point, the smoggy atmosphere caused him some difficulty, bringing the physio onto the field. Otherwise, he looked composed as he settled into the kind of defensive innings he has now become adept at playing – think SSC, 2016, or Abu Dhabi, a couple of months ago.
Occasionally, he unfurled an eye-catching attacking shot – such as a cover drive off Shami or a twinkle-toed whip against the turn off Jadeja – but otherwise it was all vigilant defence as he moved to his third successive half-century of the series, looking increasingly secure.
After lunch, he picked up his scoring too, as the bowlers’ workloads began occasionally to tell on their accuracy. Ishant dropped short a couple of times, and Chandimal put him away to the point and fine leg boundaries, but the shot of his innings, Sri Lanka’s innings, and perhaps even the match, came off Shami. It wasn’t a bad ball, banged in close to off stump, extracting a good amount of bounce, but Chandimal, feet off the ground, got off his feet and punched it to the cover boundary.