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De Silva and Chandimal lead Sri Lanka fightback

Sri Lanka 214 for 5 (De Silva 116*, Chandimal 64*, Starc 3-47) v Australia
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Sri Lanka: 214 for 5. Hardly an inspiring score at stumps on the first day of a Test. Runs ground out, just a few wickets here and there, Australia probably on top. Nope. This was not the kind of day that can be judged from the closing score. It was a day on which Sri Lanka's top order capitulated to be 26 for 5. A day on which Dhananjaya de Silva, in his third Test, led the recovery with a brilliant maiden century. And a day that ended with Sri Lanka in command.

The runs came slowly, but at least they came. They came with patience, class, respect for good bowling and, yes, a little bit of luck. But the way de Silva and Dinesh Chandimal rebuilt this innings was, for fans of Test cricket, a thing of beauty. Australia's batsmen could learn something from their approach. By stumps, de Silva was on 116 from 240 balls, Chandimal on 64 from 204, and their partnership was worth 188. They had undone all Australia's morning work.

The dry pitch turned from the first hour. Nathan Lyon picked up two wickets early, then like Jon Holland, bowled well without fortune as the day wore on. Sri Lanka's three-man spin attack will pose Australia significant challenges. There was little swing, not as much reverse as in the previous two Tests. Australia picked four pace bowlers but used only three. All of the pace wickets came from Mitchell Starc, comfortably Australia's best player of the series.

If Australia's batsmen have looked bewildered on this tour, the selectors appeared similarly baffled in Colombo. How else to account for shortening their batting order when runs have been their biggest problem? Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja were dropped, Shaun Marsh and Moises Henriques came in. Henriques, with a first-class batting average of 31, an average of 15 in the last Sheffield Shield season, and no first-class cricket since November, was listed at No.5. He did not bowl.

The selectors believe Henriques bats well against spin. It is true that he scored 68 and 81 not out against India on Test debut in Chennai in 2013. But he failed to reach double figures in the rest of that tour, a series that also featured clouded selection policies. It remains to be seen how Henriques will handle Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera and Lakshan Sandakan, but his selection was a clear message to the incumbents: learn how to play spin, or you won't play in Asia.

Sri Lanka's batting has also faltered often in this series, but always there has been someone to rescue them. In Pallekele it was Kusal Mendis with a remarkable maiden Test century in the second innings. In Galle it was Mendis again, with 86 after the score wobbled to 9 for 2 on the first morning. This time it was de Silva, who entered this series uncapped, and by stumps on day one in Colombo sat second only to Mendis on the series run tally.

The precarious situation when de Silva walked to the crease cannot be forgotten: 26 for 5. Yes, the series was already won, but suddenly there appeared the very real prospect of Sri Lanka finishing with a humiliation: overhauling their lowest ever Test total, the 71 they scored against Pakistan in Kandy in 1994, seemed a distant goal. And indeed, when de Silva was given out caught at bat pad off Lyon for 5, disaster seemed likely.

But de Silva knew he had not hit the ball - hadn't even got close to it, really. He reviewed the decision of umpire S Ravi and was rightly reprieved and from then on - this was the 20th over of the morning - not a single wicket fell for the rest of the day. There were some nervy moments - Mitchell Marsh spilled a tough chance at gully when Chandimal was 11, two Australian reviews were struck down, de Silva was dropped by Shaun Marsh at cover on 104 - but the batsmen survived.

De Silva attacked when given the chance and struck three fours in one over from Starc. He was strong when pulling and flicking off his pads, though his boundaries came all around the ground, including plenty through cover. His fifty came with a lofted boundary over cover off Mitchell Marsh, his hundred with another boundary cut off the legspin of Steven Smith. It took de Silva 209 deliveries to reach his century. It was a proper Test innings.

Chandimal was even more circumspect, nudging singles and rotating the strike, playing the perfect foil to de Silva. His fifty came from 165 deliveries, and by stumps he had struck only four fours. Even more than de Silva he showed Australia's batsmen how a challenging pitch can be handled: with the utmost patience. Chandimal himself had walked out at 24 for 4, a frenetic first hour bringing plenty of wickets.

Sri Lanka's openers continued their disastrous series, Kaushal Silva flashing at Starc and edging to slip for a 15-ball duck, and Dimuth Karunaratne bowled trying to drive Starc for 7 from 34 deliveries. Neither man has reached double figures even once in this campaign from five innings, Sri Lanka's series triumph having come in spite of their insipid top order. What might they have achieved if the openers had found form too?

Lyon was called on in the sixth over of the Test and immediately found some turn. In the 12th over he struck with a delivery that was fullish, quick and spun appreciably, and Kusal Perera managed only an edge to Smith at slip. Lyon claimed another wicket when Angelo Mathews top-edged a sweep and was caught at fine leg for 1.

Then Mendis flashed hard at a Starc delivery that angled across him and Smith snapped up his third catch at slip for the morning. Mendis had been the key batsman in the first two Tests, and Australia thought his wicket was the big one. As it turned out, at least two big ones were still waiting to be taken at stumps.