Despite losing almost two days of play due to inclement weather, Indian bowlers put up a spirited show, pushing Sri Lanka on the brink but bad light meant the play ended early for fifth day in a row and the first Test ended in a draw. When the bails were drawn, Indian seamers had reduced the visitors to 75/7 under fading light, in chase of 231.
The new ball pair of Bhuvneshwar Kumar (4/8) and Mohammed Shami (2/34) had punched two early holes in Lanka innings when they dismissed their openers in similar fashion, reducing them to 2/2 within four overs. After Virat Kohli’s superlative century allowed India to declare on 352/8, it was the perfect start they would have hoped for to enforce a result. Umesh Yadav then brought one in to trap Angelo Mathews lbw after tea but skipper Dinesh Chandimal (20) and Niroshan Dickwella (27) stonewalled the steaming bowlers, adding 47 runs for the fifth wicket.
Things heated up when Dickwella was accused of time wasting with Shami giving him an earful following which umpires had to intervene. And then, he produced a ripper to sneak through the defences of Chandimal and the Eden crowd found its voice again. Then an edge from Dickwella didn’t carry to the wicketkeeper as shown by the umpire review concluded.
Bhuvneshwar ended Dickwella’s resistance and went through the guards of Dilruwan Perera (0) in two successive overs. India were pressing hard for an unlikely win. Sri Lanka, at 75/7, hoping to survive. And they made it through when the umpire Nigel Llong took out the light-meter one last time and calling it a day. Sri Lankan dressing room heaved a sigh of relief.
That the match came so close to a nail-biting end was thanks in part to Kohli’s 18th Test century, 50th of his international career. The regular flow of wickets had forced Kohli to accelerate as he began pushing for quick runs and boundaries, reaching 104 off 119 with 12 fours and two sixes – the second of which took him to three figures. He had switched gears after reaching his maiden fifty at Eden Gardens, which came off 80 deliveries.
However, that was more due to Ravichandran Ashwin (7) and Wriddhiman Saha (5) departing within the space of six overs.
Kohli’s next fifty came in just 39 deliveries as India added 101 runs in 19.4 overs. Kohli did the bulk of scoring as he equalled Sunil Gavaskar’s record of 11 centuries as Test captain. His emotions after reaching the landmark were enough to prove of how much it meant to him.
With a well-set KL Rahul and India’s first-innings top-scorer Cheteshwar Pujara in the middle, India would have fancied their chances of enforcing a result but Lakmal threw spanner in the works of their plans in a brilliant spell of seam bowling, landing three telling blows.
Rahul played a classy knock on Sunday to wrest control of the Test from Sri Lanka. But Lakmal, who didn’t bowl much during Day 4, set up the opener with one that moved away and slipped an in-dipper that went through the gates to crash on the stumps, packing him on 79.
Pujara looked in his elements after grinding it out across the first three days for a memorable fifty. On a pitch that was now more conducive for batting, he caressed Lakmal for a lovely straight drive and punched Lahiru Gamage for two consecutive fours. Kohli had to go through a nervy phase with the bowlers hitting the deck hard to generate bounce. Lakmal stood out with a brilliant exhibition of seam bowling as he got the better of Pujara three times in a row in the 51st over. He sucked him in to playing the wrong line, got the ball to move both ways, clouding his mind.
And then came the knockout punch. Out of nowhere, Lakmal got one to bounce over Pujara’s shoulder who was late in responding to the soaring delivery. The ball flew in front of the gully fielder after taking the shoulder of the bat where Perera leapt to complete an excellent catch, ending Pujara’s knock on 22.
Ajinkya Rahane lasted three deliveries before receiving a ripper from Lakmal, out lbw without troubling the scoreboard. He took help from DRS but the decision was upheld and India had lost their two most dependable batsmen within the same over giving Sri Lanka hope.
The ploy of sending Ravindra Jadeja no. 6 didn’t work as he walked back after scoring 9 off 41. (Courtesy Times of India)
Kohli though settled in and struck three gorgeous boundaries to gain some confidence after a duck in the first innings before his bowlers almost took India to victory.
The second Test starts from November 24 in Nagpur.
Brief Scores: Sri Lanka 294 & 75/7 (Niroshan Dickwella 27; Bhuvneshwar Kumar 4/8) vs India 172 & 352/8d (Virat Kohli 104*, Shikhar Dhawan 94; Dasun Shanaka 3/76, Suranga Lakmal 3/93)