Lanka stage splendid fightback

Chandimal helps hosts set India target of 176; Rahane grabs record 8 catches

Lanka stage splendid fightback
Dinesh Chandimal rode his luck and swept himself to a smash-and-grab century as Sri Lanka staged a stunning turnaround in the opening Test against India here on Friday.

Arriving at the crease with his side tottering at 92/4 and still 100 runs behind making India bat again, the 26-year-old wicketkeeper cracked a brutal 162 not out (169b, 19x4, 4x6) and strung two vital partnerships to knock the stuffing out of the Indians at the Galle International Stadium.

Employing the sweeps and reverse-sweeps abundantly that left the three Indian spinners scratching their heads in dismay, the right-hander first forged a counter-attacking 125-run partnership — the highest of the match for the hosts — with Lahiru Thrimanne (44 runs, 76b, 4x4) before posting an 82-run association with Jehan Mubarak (49, 60b, 4x4, 2x6). Those two partnerships and some gritty batting from the Lankan lower order saw the hosts set India a tricky 176-run target, thereby giving themselves a shot at victory, something which looked totally out of bounds at lunch on the day.

At stumps, the Indians were 23/1 with KL Rahul departing leg before to Rangana Herath and with the track still holding something for the spinners an interesting fourth day is on the cards.

Chandimal, whose previous three Test tons have all come against Bangladesh, and Thirimanne decided to the take the attack to the Indians from the very start itself after suffering some anxious moments. Chandimal, who was lucky to have been ruled not out twice, and Thirimanne, also aided by a poor umpiring decision, realised prodding and defending would only delay the inevitable with the hosts reeling at 95/5 and only Mubarak being the only recognised batsmen remaining in the hut.

So, after somehow managing to keep themselves alive until lunch, they resumed their innings post the break with plenty of intent. The leader of the assault was Chandimal, smashing almost everything that was hurled at him.

With the Indian skipper Virat Kohi deciding to stay on the offensive in knowing that he was just one wicket away from getting a look at the tail, Chandimal made the best of the close-in field setting to slowly deflate the Indians. He hardly allowed anyone to settle down, bludgeoning lead spinner R Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Harbhajan Singh. Kohli’s decision to bring pacers Ishant Sharma and Varun Aaron too bore little fruit as Chandimal cut, pulled and drove them with utter disdain.

Thirimanne, struggling for runs prior to the series and pushed way down the order from his regular one-down position, too drew confidence from Chandimal, although his innings didn’t contain the same flourish and brutality as his partner.

From being 108/5 at lunch, the two were instrumental in Lanka galloping to 263/6 at tea, a staggering 155 runs coming for the loss of just one wicket in 28 overs. The sole dismissal in that run-feast second session being Thirimanne, the left-hander falling to Ashwin after Rahane, who took a world record eight catches in a Test match, pulled off a brilliant diving effort.

Chandimal, however, kept going in top gear throughout. He brought up his century in the first over after tea, pushing for a single off Harbhajan through covers. Mubarak, playing just his 12th Test despite making his debut way back in 2002, then hammered 49 to bring up his highest Test score as the Indian shoulders started to droop.

They managed to clean up a stubborn tail but not without giving themselves a tricky target to chase. All that seemed improbable when Aaron took out nightwatcman Dhammika Prasad (3) of the first ball of the day and Kumar Sangakkara (40,  70b, 5x4) and skipper Angelo Mathews (39, 63b, 4x4, 1x6) perished in quick succession just after forging a 87-run partnership. However, some umpiring blunders, a brilliant assault from Chandimal and lack of Plan B has left India with some more running to do.

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