Sri Lanka shows steel as India struggles

On a Saturday of searing intensity, the batsmen’s skills were examined relentlessly and the bowling was laced with pace, movement and hostility. On view were passion and heart – Test cricket at its very best. Sri Lanka seemed to be ahead too at 165 for four after restricting India to 172 on day three of the first Test.

Lahiru Thirimanne on way to his half-century in Kolkata on Saturday.   -  PTI

Much like the ball in these conditions, the fortunes swung one way then the other. The weather was pleasant but the cricketing temperatures soared at the Eden Gardens.

On a Saturday of searing intensity, the batsmen’s skills were examined relentlessly and the bowling was laced with pace, movement and hostility. On view were passion and heart – Test cricket at its very best.

Sri Lanka displayed character and fight. The visitor seemed to be ahead too at 165 for four after restricting India to 172 on day three of the first Test.

There were several twists. In a blow to India, Mohammed Shami hobbled off the field – Virat Kohli completed the over - late in the day.

Shami, fast and skiddy, had bowled red hot spells earlier.

When play concluded, Sri Lankan captain Dinesh Chandimal – taking stance outside the crease to counter the movement – carried much of the Sri Lankan hopes with him. 

Scoreboard and ball-by-ball details

Earlier, a combative 99-run association for the third wicket in 29.4 overs between the left-handed Lahiru Thirimanne (51) and  Angelo Mathews (52) put Sri Lanka in the box seat before India hit back.

Umesh Yadav got one to climb from off-stump, pushed Thirimanne back, and found the nick for Kohli to hold a low catch at second slip. Then, Mathews committed the folly of attempting to strike Yadav on the up on this pitch.

The left-right combination had harried India. So elegant when he finds rhythm, Thirimanne cover-drove and flicked for runs. He found the gaps with a surgeon’s precision.

There is an inherent solidity about Mathews’ ways at the crease. His footwork can be tentative at the start but the Sri Lankan can be fluent once he overcomes the phase. The former Sri Lankan skipper took his scoring opportunities, cut, pulled, and punched for runs.

India, though, could have ended the partnership earlier. Umesh got one to shape away from Thirimanne (on 27 then) but Shikhar Dhawan put down a sitter at first slip.

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Bhuvneshwar Kumar impressed. His basics for a swing bowler are spot on. He bowls from close to the stumps, has a high-arm action and possesses a wonderful wrist position. He is also someone who harnesses the angles.

He got the left-handed Dimuth Karunaratne, who padded up, by bringing the ball into the batsman from round-the-wicket. Bhuvneshwar removed Sadeera Samarawickrama, stroking with nonchalance until then, with a delivery that darted away.

Shami sent down some rippers but his length could have been fuller. Umesh too could have pitched it up and got the batsmen on the drive.

It must be said though that the weather cleared up, sunshine lit the arena and the Indian pacemen, unlike their Sri Lankan counterparts, did not have the benefit of moisture on the surface and cloud-cover. The ball still seamed around at a good pace but the conditions for batting were relatively better.

In the morning, Pujara promptly reached a half century. His feet are a tad closer in his stance, he is more upright and this has lent his batting greater balance.

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Pujara succumbed to a mean Lahiru Gamage delivery that broke back sharply from outside off. Given his rather open-chested release, Gamage does have a tendency to nip the ball back.

Wriddhiman Saha, stroking between point and cover, and the left-handed Ravindra Jadeja, slashing and flashing, mounted a counter-attack of sorts.

Dilruwan Perera showed it was possible for a spinner to strike in these conditions with dip and drift. He is an old-fashioned off-spinner who uses his body in action and has an easy release.

Perera deceived Saha (on 25 then) only to see ‘keeper Dickwella fluff a stumping, but soon removed Jadeja with one that drifted in from round-the-wicket. He then consumed Saha on the paddle sweep.

Sri Lanka had done to restrict India within 200.