All-round Indian show pushes SL to the brink

Hardik Pandya’s attacking century set the tone for India’s dominance that leaves it nine wickets away from claiming an innings win.

Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav (second from left) took four wickets to catalyse Sri Lanka’s first innings demise.   -  AP

It is easy to gaze into the distant yonder at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium. The mountains are bewitching and the clouds ever-present. Dinesh Chandimal’s men too were often staring into the skies, albeit for different reasons. The Sri Lankan fielders were peering hard at a red cherry that repeatedly soared high and stayed beyond their reach while an audacious Hardik Pandya owned the stage.

Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

The all-rounder’s blistering maiden Test century (108, 96b, 8x4, 7x6) helped India post a first innings total of 487 here on the second day of the third Test. At close, Sri Lanka was in a shambles. The host replied with 135, suffered the follow-on, mustered 19 for one in the second dig and is trailing the visitor by 333 runs.

Fifth gear

Sunday belonged to Pandya. His rousing performance included the record for the highest runs scored by an Indian in a single over. He plundered 26 off left-arm spinner Malinda Pushpakumara. The scoring sequence (4,4,6,6,6,0) left fielders at long-on and long-off, redundant. His arms flexed in cohesion, the feet and bat stayed in sync, the stroke’s follow-through was extravagant and the resultant laughter in the Indian dressing room never stopped.

Hardik Pandya's maiden Test century was a memorable one.

 

Pandya’s blitzkrieg put to shade the previous best of 24 in an over, shared by Kapil Dev and Sandeep Patil, who both hammered England bowlers. Kapil struck four sixes against spinner Eddie Hemmings at Lord’s in 1990 and Patil pounded Bob Willis for six fours at Old Trafford in 1982.

Hardik: 'I was in the zone'

One man witnessed all three exploits. Ravi Shastri, as a team-mate of Kapil and Patil, watched their staggering strokes and now as the head-coach, he saw a youngster fire a fusillade. Having struck Baroda’s Tilak Raj for six sixes in an over during a Ranji Trophy game, Shastri knows a thing or two about taking ‘the aerial route’.

Making merry

Resuming from 329 for six, Pandya saw Wriddhiman Saha perish early. Soon a teaser for his imminent exploits was premiered as Pandya leant back and upper-cut Lahiru Kumara’s bouncer over the wicket-keeper’s head. Along with Kuldeep Yadav, Pandya added 62 runs for the eighth wicket. An alliance laced with the former’s singles and the latter’s clean hits.

Tillakaratne: 'We must back our boys'

Once Kuldeep and Mohammed Shami, who drilled straight back to Lakshan Sandakan, were dismissed, Pandya slammed the accelerator. With last-man Umesh Yadav for company, Pandya smote everything and the duo added 66 for the final wicket. Chandimal threw a dare and stationed nine on the fence but the centurion was equal to the task. He picked the gaps, got the required elevation, galloped to his ton, spread his arms and bowed towards the dressing room.

India surged to 487 for seven at lunch and it is a measure of Pandya’s dominance that among the 158 gained in the first session, his contribution was 107. He however became Sandakan’s fifth victim after lunch but by then he had granted the keys of the match to Kohli.

Clueless

Sri Lanka’s response consisted of another shocking display of inept batting. Shami’s swing accounted for Upul Tharanga and Dimuth Karunaratne as the openers moved their bats more in hope. Kusal Mendis made the fatal error of underestimating R. Ashwin’s fielding skills. The off-spinner’s diving stop and resultant throw may have missed the stumps but Kuldeep, who backed-up sharply, knocked down the timber. A lackadaisical Mendis was still short of his non-striker’s crease!

Kusal Mendis is caught short of his crease via a throw from Kuldeep Yadav.

 

Pandya was also in the thick of action, trapping Angelo Mathews and catching Dilruwan Perera in the deep. Chandimal and Niroshan Dickwella’s 63-run fifth-wicket partnership was the lone point of Sri Lankan resistance just as Kuldeep and Ashwin got into the act. Except for a brief phase when Chandimal drove him thrice for fours, Kuldeep spun a web and grabbed four wickets. And Ashwin dismissed the home team’s skipper.

Soon Kohli asked Sri Lanka to bat again and Umesh Yadav castled Upul Tharanga. India’s 3-0 whitewash should occur faster than expected.