Gritty Lankans stage fightback

Visitors ride on tons from Chandimal, Mathews to post 356/9

Gritty Lankans stage fightback

Left breathless by smog and India's batting prowess, Sri Lanka fought back in a spectacular fashion on Monday.

Centuries from Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews empowered Sri Lanka to dominate two sessions of the third day of the third Test. It was before India barged into the contest with quick wickets and restored order under fading light at Feroz Shah Kotla stadium.

The visitors began the day at 131/3 on a hazy morning but unlike Sunday, the day's play suffered no repeated disruptions, barring a brief three-minute break early on. The overnight pair of captain Chandimal and Mathews (111) countered with purpose during their 181-run fourth-wicket partnership before Mathews, after being dropped thrice in two days, departed at the stroke of tea. It was just the opening a weary India were eyeing. A collapse followed, and left Sri Lanka high and dry at 356/9 in reply to India's first innings total of 536/7 declared. When bad light stopped play, Chandimal was on 147 and Lakshan Sandakan on zero, with Sri Lanka trailing by 180 runs.

With the third day wicket showing little signs of deterioration, the conditions remained conducive for batting throughout. India also suffered on account of their poor slip fielding. The hosts dropped five catches at slip in two days.

Mathews and Chandimal tormented them by digging their heels in and India were stretched to their limits in their effort to break the visitors' defence. The first session went wicketless for India despite their seamers Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami making the ball zip early morning. Ravichandran Ashwin, brought in 25 minutes before lunch, could not create much impact then. Chandimal raised his third half-century in a row and Sri Lanka 61 runs in the session.

On return, India took the new ball after the 81st over and Ishant, with his improved approach and follow through, made impressive use of it. On the first ball itself, he had Mathews poke at the delivery which shaped away but Rohit Sharma dropped a sitter at second slip. Mathews, who was at 98 that time, reached his century two balls later. The century for the all-rounder had come after 37 innings and ended a two-year drought.

Mathews, who was dropped in the slips on Sunday as well, got a life third time when he hit Ravindra Jadeja over mid-off but substitute Vijay Shankar couldn't hold on. The ball raced to the boundary.

Indians' frustration was now palpable. It was at this stage that Ashwin, bowling round the wicket, got one to drift away from Mathews and Wriddhiman Saha took a fine catch. Tea followed shortly, after which Chandimal completed his 10th Test century. It was a knock of patience and character and one which the young captain will remember for some time.

However, even as Chandimal kept one end firm, others couldn't raise themselves to the occasion. Sadeera Samarawickrama was packed off by Ishant from a stunning one-handed catch by Saha. Ashwin then spoilt the debut of Roshen Silva before crashing the stumps of Niroshan Dickwella. By the time the game was stopped, the Sri Lankan tail was more or less wiped off.

With the pitch holding the promise of breaking on the fourth and fifth day, India can pull off a victory.

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