Tea: Sri Lanka 61 for 4 (Dickwella 14*, Chandimal 13*, Shami 2-15) trail India 487 (Dhawan 119, Pandya 108, Rahul 85, Sandakan 5-132, Pushpakumara 3-82) by 426 runs
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The second day of the Pallekele Test began with Sri Lanka in their most promising position of the series. Two-thirds of the way through it, they were wondering what had hit them, as a brilliantly paced maiden Test hundred from Hardik Pandya, followed by a masterful new-ball spell from Mohammed Shami, left them gasping for survival.
Having stretched their first-innings total to 487, India ran through Sri Lanka’s top order, with Shami’s accuracy and seam movement taking out both openers, to leave them 61 for 4 at tea.
Shami was at peak rhythm right from his first ball, a bouncer that forced Dimuth Karunaratne to duck hurriedly. Bowling around the wicket, he swung the ball into him in his first over, telling both left-handed openers that they had to play every ball. Then, going wide of the crease and exaggerating the inward angle, he got two balls to hold their line. Both balls hit the seam on the perfect length, and in successive overs both Upul Tharanga and Karunaratne had nicked Shami behind, their feet frozen at the crease.
The examination continued against the right-handed pair of Kusal Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal, with the the latter surviving an lbw appeal, with DRS returning an umpire’s call verdict on height. The pressure he was exerting – utterly suffocating, despite Umesh Yadav straying onto the pads repeatedly at the other end – played some part in the mix-up that cost Sri Lanka their third wicket, and two pieces of excellent fielding from R Ashwin at mid-on and Kuldeep Yadav at extra-cover sent back Mendis in the ninth over of their innings.
Four balls later, Sri Lanka were 38 for 4, Angelo Mathews lbw to Pandya, pinned on the crease by one that kept a touch low. Chandimal, playing scrupulously straight and trying to block out his team’s despondent situation, and Niroshan Dickwella, typically impish and sweep-happy, put on 23 off 27 balls to take Sri Lanka to tea without further loss.
In two sessions, India had utterly transformed the match, with the bulk of the transformation occurring in just over two hours of play. Pandya had just reached his half-century when India lost their ninth wicket, some ten minutes before the scheduled lunch break. The interval was duly pushed back by half an hour, and Pandya went on to dominate a tenth-wicket stand of 66, racing from 50 off 61 balls to 108 off 96, with the No. 11 Umesh Yadav scoring 3 off 14 in that time.
By the time he was the last man out for 108, in the first over after lunch, Pandya had become the second Indian batsman in the series to score a century in a session, after Shikhar Dhawan on the first day of the first Test in Galle. He was out third ball after resumption, slicing a Lakshan Sandakan googly to the fielder on the cover boundary. Sandakan finished with figures of 5 for 132, his first five-wicket haul, coming in his sixth Test match.
Sri Lanka had begun the second day with the verve and menace with which they had ended the first, Vishwa Fernando finding extra bounce to have Wriddhiman Saha caught at gully in its second over to leave India 339 for 7. Fernando kept testing the batsmen with swing, bounce and a bit of seam, and at one point beat the No. 9 Kuldeep Yadav four times in succession – three times going past the outside edge and once past the inside edge to provoke a loud lbw appeal.
Having survived that, Kuldeep put his head down and ground out 26 off 73 balls to help add 62 for the eighth wicket with Pandya. That partnership came at 3.17 an over, indicative of how hard Sri Lanka’s bowlers made both Kuldeep and Pandya work for their runs. During this phase of his innings, Pandya treated the bowling with respect, keeping an eye out for the odd short ball from the fast bowlers, which he put away with pulls, punches and ramps over the keeper.
Otherwise, he simply took the singles on offer against Sri Lanka’s defensive fields. The bowlers and Pandya circled each other warily in this period; they knew of his hitting ability, he knew they knew, and for now he would bide his time.
Then, Sandakan struck twice in three overs, finding Kuldeep’s edge with dip and turn after drawing him forward with his flight, and then taking a sharp return catch when Shami drove him hard and straight. It brought the No. 11 to the crease, and provoked a change of approach from Pandya.
By this time, Malinda Pushpakumara had bowled four overs in the morning, and his figures read 22-2-56-3. Over the course of his next five balls, Pandya went on to mangle those figures, taking 26 runs off them with the cleanest striking imaginable, all of it executed with the stillest of heads and the smoothest of bat-swings.
He began the over with a flat, slog-swept four, and followed it with a charge down the pitch for a stinging flat-bat hit past the bowler’s left hand. Then came three successive straight sixes, one of them clearing the sightscreen and another punching a hole through it. This was the head-on confrontation that the morning had been building towards all along.
Sandakan, varying his pace and keeping batsmen guessing the direction of turn, conceded only three off the next over despite Pandya being on strike through most of it. Then Lahiru Kumara replaced Pushpakumara, pace replacing spin. No matter; Pandya hooked his second ball for six, premeditating by taking guard on off stump and hitting clean and hard. Into the 90s.
Another six in the next over, over midwicket off Sandakan, took him to 97, and the century came up with a straight drive off Kumara – a straight-bat push to the left of a diving mid-on. He had become the fifth Indian to score his maiden first-class hundred in a Test match, after Vijay Manjrekar, Kapil Dev, Ajay Ratra and Harbhajan Singh.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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