Test cricket was captured stunningly in a moment of splendid artistry and instant retaliation. Dinesh Chandimal picked the challenging Ishant Sharma to produce a silken cover drive that left the field and the audience in a trance. The next ball Ishant surprised Chandimal with a snorter that climbed and hit the thumb of the best batsman of the day. There was respect for each other as the two underlined their individual art.
On a murky day, Sri Lankan cricket shone brightly. Not that the team overhauled the Indian first innings score but it made a case for itself with resilience that really lit up the contest on the third day of the concluding Test in what has been a contest of attrition.
Chandimal's eye-catching riposte
The Ferozeshah Kotla pitch may have eased but nothing should take the credit away from Chandimal’s exemplary performance as Sri Lanka, resuming at 131 for three, finished at 356 for nine.
Chandimal, who has clearly worked on his game and brought in discipline, led the Sri Lankan fightback with a classy century – flawless and action-packed. He was not perturbed by the providential life that Angelo Mathews enjoyed at the other end – surviving four chances, all regulation catches dropped by Virat Kohli,Rohit Sharma , Shikhar Dhawan and substitute Vijay Shankar. India’s fielding was an eyesore and allowed Sri Lanka to escape some tricky situations.
Cricket takes centre-stage again
The air pollution that hung over the ground did not deter the players from giving their best. Face masks were conspicuously absent even though off-spinner R. Ashwin was visibly struggling because of the poor air quality. The floodlights came on in the afternoon to facilitate the game before the play was called off with five more overs left for the day.
The focus was back on cricket from masks and pollution. Sri Lanka was determined to slug it out even as India put up an improved show from its spinners where Ashwin, slow in the air, and left-arm Ravindra Jadeja complemented each other by using the crease adroitly.
The biggest gain for India from the third day’s cricket was the temperament that the spinners demonstrated. It was crucial for them to bowl within the limitations given the state of the pitch and they were flawless. It is always demanding to control the line and length when the pitch offers little and the Indian spinners grew in each other’s inspiring company. They stuck to a stump-to-stump line and created consistent pressure on the batsmen.
Sri Lanka fights back
However, Sri Lanka was not to be cowed down by the gigantic target and the bowlers’ reputation. Chandimal, enjoying the responsibility of captaincy, was the guiding force. Mathews indulged in some adventurism and lived dangerously to the delight of his captain. The Indian attack showed signs of frustration in the afternoon but only for a passing phase. Ishant, a much-improved bowler after that spell in a Ranji Trophy match against Maharashtra, came in strongly - his rhythm being the striking feature. Mohammed Shami was willing to bend his back and the Indian fast bowlers looked well prepared for the South Africa tour.
Chandimal was the performer of the day. He brings an old world charm to the crease with his ability to pick the line early. The skill with which he leaves the ball makes him a worthy Test batsman in an era where compulsive shot-making is tagged as positive approach.
Chandimal picked the ball, and not the bowler, to showcase his dominance in times of distress. His 10th Test century encompassed the essence of his batting – built on strong self-belief. At no point did he make a wrong move even when Mathews, the senior partner, was giving frequent hopes of a breakthrough to the Indian bowlers.
There were times when India looked defensive with some perplexing field placements but Sri Lanka deserved the day’s honours. The 181-run fourth-wicket stand between Chandimal and Mathews, who hit his eighth Test century, gave the match a competitive flavour after India’s ruthless domineering in this home season. A possible draw would earn Sri Lanka a warm pat. It trails by 180 runs and a wicket in hand but importantly India would have to bat the second time.