Lanka hold the upper hand

Lanka hold the upper hand

Visitors reach 168 for four as Mathews, Thirimanne hit fifties

Lanka hold the upper hand

Though the bowlers walked away with the better of exchanges, the day's passage of play made for an engaging battle between ball and bat.        

For the first time in three days, including the eve of the match, the sun made  it's first appearance. Although it was a hide-and-seek game on a largely overcast day, the rain mercifully stayed away to ensure a decent amount of overs on the day. Riding on some luck and plenty of pluck, Sri Lanka continued to have their noses in front but India salvaged the day with two vital blows to the visitors in the final session here at the Eden Gardens which had a large gathering.

Resuming at their overnight score of 74 for five, India could only manage to extend their innings to 172 all out in 59.3 overs with Cheteshwar Pujara (52, 181m, 117b, 10x4) completing his half-century. The right-hander didn't last long after that and cameos by Wriddhiman Saha (29), Ravindra Jadeja (22) and Mohammad Shami (24) helped them take the total well past 150.            

On a day when the TV umpire was kept busy with as many as eight on-field decisions being referred to him, bowlers continued to hold sway over the batsmen even though the pitch appeared to have lost some of its sting. As the day progressed, the movement off the pitch progressively became less compared to the first two days and the Lankan batsmen cashed in on it to finish the day at 165 for four in 45.4 overs when play was called off due to bad light with a minimum of 24.2 overs to be bowled for the day. Lanka now trail India by a mere 7 runs.

Lahiru Thirimanne (51, 143m, 94b, 8x4) and Angelo Mathews (52, 147m, 94b, 8x4) linked up in the middle with Lanka in a spot of bother at 33/2 having lost both their openers, and stitched 99 runs for the third wicket to put the tourists seemingly on the path of ascendency. While the pitch still played some tricks every now and then, the duo found ways to score. Some runs came off genuine cricketing shots while a significant others were earned through edges behind the wickets. Even as Lanka were slowly chipping away at India's below-par total, Umesh struck twice in the space of two overs to dismiss both the set batsmen to put India right back into the game.

While it's true that the pitch is playing a bit better in terms of batting, it still has something for the pacers. The surprise movement and the uneven bounce ensure that the batsmen never feel "in" no matter how much time they have spent on it. The dismissals of three half-centurions (Pujara, Thirimanne and Mathews) are a case in point. Pujara, who remained impregnable the first two days, had his stumps shattered by a Lahiru Gamage ripper that jagged back from outside off, snaking through the gaping distance between bat and pad. Thirimanne and Mathews fell to a lot less difficult deliveries but the unpredictable behaviour of the sphere forced them to play at balls that they would have been better off leaving alone.                            

India should have ended the day with at least three more wickets but the rub of the green went Lanka's way. Bhuvneshwar Kumar (2/49) and Umesh Yadav (2/50) shared two wickets apiece but Shami, who walked off without completing his 14th over due to suspected cramps, was easily the best bowler on the scene. While he was a little off-length in his first two spells, the right-arm quick hit right spots in his third (5-3-10-0). He made the batsmen hop and skip in the crease and poke and miss at times without number in a relentlessly hostile spell of pace bowling. It was as frustrating for the bowler to see the batsmen survive each of his thunderbolts as it was gripping for the viewers.