Mendis, Karunaratne offer respite for SL after India imposes follow-on

The duo feature in a 191-run partnership to frustrate India after the host is bowled out for 183.

Kusal Mendis scored his third Test hundred.   -  AP

It was a Saturday split between Sri Lanka’s collapse in the first half and its aggressive consolidation in the second. Yet, India, ahead by 230 runs and with two days remaining in the contest, should ideally seize this match.

Following-on after a lacklustre first innings (183) inflicted a 439-run deficit, Dinesh Chandimal’s men performed better in the second dig. At close on the third day of the second Test, the host scored 209 for two in its second innings with Kusal Mendis (110, 135b, 17x4) and Dimuth Karunaratne (92 batting) lending a mighty hand on a surface that remained slow and offered moderate assistance to spin.

Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

The duo’s 191-run second-wicket partnership encouraged the fans to exercise their vocal chords and the cheers rang aloud here at the Sinhalese Sports Club. India finally had an opposition to compete with. Mendis eventually fell, edging a Hardik Pandya off-cutter onto his pads and as the ball flew onto the leg-side, an airborne Wriddhiman Saha caught well.

Fightback

Stepping out to bat for the second time, Sri Lanka offered a sunny demeanour. India found its initial success when Umesh Yadav scalped Upul Tharanga in the third over after lunch. There could have been more heart-breaks for the host but luck favoured it. When Karunaratne reverse-swept R. Ashwin, the top-edge flew over the slips. Soon Mendis tried to swat the off-spinner past mid-on and elevated the ball. As it dipped, Shikhar Dhawan was in fine position, kneeling on one leg and with hands ready to pouch. But he shelled the catch.

With his 26th five-for in Tests, R. Ashwin is now only behind Anil Kumble (35).

 

Tall, left-handed Karunaratne and the relatively short, right-handed Mendis, by their contrasting physical dimensions, forced the bowlers to constantly alter their line and length. Karunaratne steered and flicked, Mendis drove and swept, both conventional and reverse, and it flipped pressure back onto Ashwin and company. Just before tea, Mendis cover drove Umesh, it was a shot of distilled beauty. Sri Lanka was 118 for one, very much with its back to the wall but still punching above its weight.

Dickwella: We executed plans well in second dig

That theme extended into the last session. Mendis reached his third Test ton, slog sweeping left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja for four. Karunaratne remained hungry and cut Ashwin fine. Even after Mendis was out following a 212-minute vigil, Karunaratne and night-watchman Malinda Pushpakumara held firm.

Meek surrender

Earlier in the morning, resuming at 50 for two, Sri Lanka needed enduring partnerships. Its batsmen, though, were inept. Chandimal slog-swept a Jadeja delivery to Pandya and other Sri Lankan batsmen wavered between flamboyance and timidity.

Ashwin: A tough day in store

Ashwin and Jadeja kept a tight leash but it was Umesh who grabbed the next wicket. Mendis essayed a constricted lofted stroke that found refuge in Kohli. It was some redemption for the India captain who had previously grassed Angelo Mathews on zero. The edge off Jadeja proved elusive despite Kohli’s dive at gully.

A 53-run fifth-wicket partnership ensued between Mathews and Niroshan Dickwella (51). The latter drove and swept while the former smote two huge sixes off Jadeja. Finally a piece of catching brilliance stalled Mathews’s knock with Cheteshwar Pujara plucking a left-handed catch at leg-slip after the all-rounder snicked Ashwin.

The remaining wickets fell in a heap just before lunch. Jadeja foxed Dhananjaya de Silva with one that turned just a shade to clip the bail. Dickwella, in trying to scoop Mohammed Shami, redirected the delivery onto his citadel. In the same over, Rangana Herath played all over a yorker. And Ashwin relished a classic off-spinner’s dismissal, luring Dilruwan Perera into the drive and languidly curling the ball between bat and pad to disturb the timber.

Last man Nuwan Pradeep, who turned out despite a grade-one hamstring tear, accidentally tapped the ball onto the stumps. It was Ashwin’s 26th five-for in Tests and among Indians, he went past Harbhajan Singh (25). Only Anil Kumble (35) remains ahead.

India immediately enforced the follow-on and realised that there was more hard work in store before it could own this game.