Sri Lanka’s bowlers fought back admirably in the latter half of the opening day of the Third and final test to share the day’s honours after it seemed that they would be totally blown away.
After being punished by India’s openers in a 188-run stand, the hosts took six wickets for 141 as India ended the day on 329 for 6.
Winning his third toss in the series, Kohli had no hesitation in batting first and openers KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan gave their side the ideal platform racing to 134 for no wicket at lunch – the duo recording their first century partnership.
As is now almost customary in this series, the hosts gave Rahul an early life with Lahiru Kumara making a mess of an easy catch in the outfield. That was the signal for Rahul to change tempo and the pair raced along at six runs per over.
Thanks to the let off, Rahul joined an elite list of batsmen who have scored seven consecutive fifties in Tests.
The post-lunch session began in the same vein with the batsmen in total control. Another record fell when the score passed 171 – the record held by Navjot Singh Sidhu and Manoj Prabhakar. It seemed that the pair would bat all day but suddenly Rahul threw his wicket away, caught by Karunaratne at mid-on off Pushpakumara’s bowling for 85.
The dismissal brought the in-form Pujara to the crease but the hosts were now buoyed by their first wicket and did not let him settle down. Meanwhile, Dhawan unfazed by all the action at the other end moved serenely on to his second century of the series.
There was more jublilation for the hosts when Pushpakumara struck again having Dhawan well caught by Dinesh Chandimal at square-leg. It was then Sandakan’s turn to join the action when he induced an edge from Pujara with a beautiful delivery and Angelo Mathews at slip completed a good catch.
From 188 for no wicket, India were now in a spot of bother with the score reading 229/3. Ajinkya Rahane joined Kohli and the two took India to the tea break with the score reading 235/3.
The pair started positively after the tea break, but Pushpakumara struck once again against the run of play as he castled Rahane (17) as the vice-captain played down the wrong line. Although he has been among the runs this series, Ravichandran Ashwin is not by any stretch of imagination a number six batsman and this was the opportunity for the hosts to crank up the pressure and try to break through to the tail.
The hosts duly got their break but it was the prized wicket of skipper Kohli (42) as he became Sandakhan’s second victim – deceived by a another great delivery that turned at the last moment and had Kohli edging to Dimuth Karunaratne at slip and leaving India on 296/5.
Ashwin and Saha looked to keep their wickets intact and played for the close but the hosts had the final say when fast bowler Fernando ended Ashwin’s resistance in the 88th over finding the edge of the bat as wicket-keeper Dickwella completed a neat catch as India slipped to 322/6 and added seven more before the close.
The opening day thus ended with the visitors in almost the identical position as they were in after the opening days of the first two tests. In both the previous games the hosts struck back early on the second morning but let India get away to scores of 600 and more – this time they need to finish the job early and keep India to below 400 if they hope to have any chance of saving this game and their pride.