Ashraful, Mushfiqur in tremendous partnership
Bangladesh 438 for 4 (Ashraful 189*, Mushfiqur 152*) trail Sri Lanka 570 for 4 dec (Sangakkara 142, Thirimanne 155*, Chandimal 116*) by 132 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Galle has traditionally been a stronghold for Sri Lanka, with their spinners known for running through sides and wrapping up Tests well inside five days. Mohammad Ashraful and Mushfiqur Rahim, however, batted like they were unfazed by that intimidating record, digging in for big centuries and breaking country records over a single day. Their unbeaten partnership of 261 was the highest in Bangladesh's 13-year history as a Test nation and Ashraful went past his own record for the highest individual score by a Bangladesh batsman.
A common criticism of Bangladesh has been the inability of their batsmen to occupy the crease long enough and thus post totals in excess of 400 consistently. It had affected their ability to stretch Tests into the fifth day. On this occasion, Ashraful played the longest innings by a Bangladesh batsman in terms of balls faced (381) and the team passed the 400 mark with only four wickets down, well on track to beat their highest of 556 against West Indies last November. They lost only two wickets on the third day - both in the first hour - before Ashraful and Mushfiqur remained un-separated till stumps.
Two wicketless sessions marked a forgettable day for Sri Lanka's bowlers. The seamers got no swing, and Rangana Herath failed to get enough turn and bounce. Ajantha Mendis was ineffective in his comeback Test, failing to pitch on the desired length and dishing out the odd full toss. Part-timers were called upon but all changes were in vain.
The pitch was a batsman's dream but that wasn't taking any credit away from Bangladesh. The absence of two mainstays in the line-up was talked about as Bangladesh's biggest challenge ahead of this game, but Ashraful allayed fears of a meltdown with a mature innings. Ashraful has fancied the Sri Lankan bowling since his debut, with five of his six Test centuries coming against them. His presence provided stability after Sri Lanka had struck in the first hour - Mominul Haque edging to slip for 55, and Mahmudullah waltzing down the track to Herath before getting off the mark.
Ashraful eased the pressure by remaining positive, punishing the fuller deliveries outside off for fours and forcing the Sri Lankan captain to push cover back. Mushfiqur's calm presence helped Ashraful as he neared his first Test century in more than four years. He found his timing with a couple of sweetly timed punches past cover in one over from Nuwan Kulasekara.
Ashraful entered the 90s with a forceful drive past cover point, but his nerves were apparent. He spent a fidgety 35 deliveries in the 90s before driving Mendis past cover to bring up his century. The relief was palpable as he roared and stretched his arms towards the dressing room, temporarily putting to rest the criticism he is so accustomed to.
Sri Lanka took the new ball after lunch but it didn't change their fortunes. Mushfiqur whipped Kulasekara off the pads in the first over before Ashraful thrashed Angelo Mathews past cover for consecutive boundaries. A Mushfiqur cover drive brought up the century stand, the second of the innings.
The stand was highlighted by several such confident drives through the off side, and Mushfiqur also used his feet to Herath regularly, chipping down the track and smashing over the off side. Mendis wasn't used as much as the senior Herath, but he too couldn't maintain control, bowling a full toss to Mushfiqur that was clubbed over midwicket. Mushfiqur also entered the 90s with a boundary to third man just before tea. After playing out a full session the batsmen shook hands, acknowledging a job well done.
Sri Lanka did have a chance to break the stand. Mushfiqur, on 103, went down the pitch to Tillakaratne Dilshan, who failed to hang on to a return catch. He then charged the same bowler and launched him over long-on to go past the follow-on mark. When Ashraful pushed a single to long-on in the final session, he went past his previous best of 158, against India, to break a Bangladesh record. This was also the second double-century partnership in Bangladesh's Test history for all wickets, beating the 200 set by Tamim Iqbal and Junaid Siddique against India in Dhaka in 2010.
The bowlers tried varying their lengths on a slow pitch, but it appeared as though they were waiting for the batsmen to get out to tired shots. They rarely played weary shots, though. A straight-driven four by Mushfiqur helped Bangladesh beat their best overseas total of 416, against West Indies in St Lucia in 2004.
They were still 132 adrift of matching Sri Lanka's score, and while the chances of a result looked dim, getting this far was a sign of progress for Bangladesh. They had left the hosts searching for answers in their own fortress.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo