India in sight of rare series win

India in sight of rare series win

India in sight of rare series win

A determined India found multiple heroes on a sultry Monday as they primed themselves towards a series-clinching win over Sri Lanka at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC).

Resuming the fourth day of the third and final Test at a precarious 21/3 with just a lead of 132 runs, the Indians ground out a gruelling opening spell in gritty fashion before fine knocks from Rohit Sharma (50), Stuart Binny (49), Naman Ojha (35), Amit Mishra (39) and R Ashwin (58) powered them to 274 all out in 76 overs.

Set an improbable target of 386, the Sri Lankan top-order once again fumbled under the intense pressure applied by Indian pacers Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav, reaching stumps at 67/3 to leave the visitors in the driver’s seat of securing just their second series triumph here.

Skipper Kohli and Rohit began the day in predictably cautious fashion. With the ball just 8.1 overs old and pacers Dhammika Prasad and Nuwan Pradeep extracting plenty of pace, bounce and deviation on a SSC track that still held lots of juice and live grass, Kohli and Rohit decided to buckle and soak in all the pressure.

They rarely swished at balls outside the off-stump, tight-bolting their pleasing-on-the-eye cover-drives, and nicely left alone the balls that climbed up on them. Brick by brick under the sweltering heat, they kept building their innings without allowing any of the close appeals to bother them.

Like in the first innings how he fell prey to the sucker ball outside the off-stump, Kohli undid all his good work when he poked at a Pradeep ball way outside the off-stump to present the hard-working Sri Lankans a chance of having a crack at them.

But a brisk 54-run partnership between Rohit and Binny changed the complexion of the match. Binny set the tempo with a fine boundary off Pradeep in the 25th over of the innings before Rohit followed that up with two picture-perfect cover drives to the fence.

The two rarely looked in any sort of trouble and with Prasad and Pradeep tiring and left-arm spinner Rangana Herath unable to back his pacers, the runs started to flow at a fair clip as pressure on the Indians started to ease. And just when one thought Rohit, looking really good and batting on 50, would anchor India to a big score, he threw his wicket away with a poor shot minutes before lunch.

His attempted hook off Prasad’s short ball saw the ball take a leading edge to Pradeep at deep fine leg.

Indians, however, kept finding one batsman after another to maintain their tempo on. Binny kept playing his shots — some chancy and some powerful — while Mishra and Ojha too played delightful cameos to frustrate the Lankans.

Out of sorts
With their shoulders drooping, off-spinner Ashwin, out of sorts with the bat this series, then rubbed salt into the Lankans’ wounds by scoring a stylish half-century. Studded with hooks, pulls and silken cover-drives, he stroked himself to a fifth half-century and also emerge as the innings’ top-scorer.

The stage was then set for the Indian bowlers and they made use of the 18.1 overs they got to leave the hosts staring at a morale-shattering second successive home series defeat. Bowling like a possessed man, Ishant got an edge of opener Upul Tharanga off the fifth ball that fell short of second slip.

There was no denying the tall Delhiite in the very next ball as he got Tharanga to poke at a brilliant ball just outside the off-stump and wicketkeeper Naman Ojha completed a fine catch to kick-start wild celebrations.

Dimuth Karunaratne then departed to the pace of Umesh Yadav, the left-hander once again pushing and offering Ojha his second catch. Ishant, seemingly in a mood to give a variety of send-offs, then accounted for the dangerous Dinesh Chandimal.
The right-hander too couldn’t show the discipline and aptitude needed to survive on a spicy track and hostile bowling, jabbing at a ball and sending it flying to KL Rahul at second slip. Butter-fingered Rahul fumbled but Kohli showed good presence of mind to collect it off a rebound.

Kaushal Silva and skipper Mathews then saw of the remaining testing period mixing caution with aggression but will have plenty of work to do on the final day to deny India a victory.