Sri Lanka 183 (Dickwella 51, Ashwin 5-69, Shami 2-, 13, Jadeja 2-84) and 209 for 2 (f/o) (Mendis 110, Karunaratne 92*) trail India 622 for 9 dec by 230 runs
For the morning session, India were like the pink panther, playing pranks, drawing laughs and having life be ever so blissful. They bowled the opposition out for 183, gained a lead of 439 and enforced the follow-on. In the same time, Sri Lanka were like Jacques Clouseau, bumbling and fumbling their way through the investigation to figure out how to bat on a spiteful pitch. Then came the dramatic role-reversal.
As has been his wont in a short career, Kusal Mendis was at the forefront of it, with 110 off only 135 balls, with 68 runs in boundaries. Granted, he could have been out for 1 had the catch he gave Shikhar Dhawan at mid-on been held, but in recovering from that and counterattacking with skill and self-belief, he walked away with an innings of breathtaking quality. Led by his epic, Sri Lanka finished the day trailing by 230 runs with eight wickets in hand. But they will have to come back tomorrow with him in the pavilion after Hardik Pandya snaffled him in the sixth over before stumps.
Second in command of the firefight was Dimuth Karunaratne, who made 92. His tempo was markedly different for he doesn't have the same range of shots as his partner. But he is rather good at playing close to his body. The only indulgence he allowed himself was the odd reverse sweep, but his greatest strength, one that helped him bat out two full sessions, was the ability to forget about the jaffa that went past his edge and concentrate on the next one.
Mendis and Karunaratne's partnership - the second highest for the second wicket while following on - was all the more remarkable because it came on the same surface where, only hours ago, balls had darted past the outside edge like smooth criminals. The stumps had a target on them and India's bowlers lined up like broke bounty hunters to claim the reward. The poor Sri Lanka batsmen were simply bystanders caught in the chaos replying to India's 622.
Niroshan Dickwella stood out playing the left-handed, travel-friendly version of Dinesh Chandimal's 162* in Galle two years ago. But he could only get as far as 51 before one of his many sweeps, rather inconveniently, crashed into middle stump. Still, his approach had given Sri Lanka a template to counter high-quality bowling on what was revealed as a temperamental turner. Help came whenever R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja had asked for it in the first innings. One took his 26th five-wicket haul, the other became the quickest left-armer to 150 Test wickets. Things were a little harder in the second.
Mendis and his sweeps were the biggest reason for that. He claimed 42 runs off 21 balls with that shot accessing regions both square - like he did to reach his third Test hundred - and straight - some of his 17 fours went past mid-on. Essentially, India's spinners felt like they were trying to sneak the ball past a rapidly revolving door.
Such kind of clarity of mind was absent in Sri Lanka's first innings. So the bowlers could settle into their lines and lengths.
A measure of how hard it was to face Jadeja on this surface came in the 35th over. Dhananjaya de Silva, playing only his second international game in four months, was faced with a fullish delivery. But since it clocked 95 kph there was no time to move the front foot to cover the line. He tried desperately to defend but before he knew it, his off stump was rattled. For all the good it did for the batsman to make his way out to the crease, he could just as well have sent out a hologram.
Ashwin, meanwhile, picked up a five-for like it was a loaf of bread at a supermarket. Extra bounce, and exceptional fielding from Cheteshwar Pujara, diving low to his left at leg slip, did Angelo Mathews. Drift, dip and turn confounded Dilruwan Perera. And poor Nuwan Pradeep, with a busted hamstring, ushered the ball onto his stumps off an inside edge.
Funnily enough, Sri Lanka made exactly 183 in exactly 49.4 overs in the first innings against India on the 2015 tour, and won that game. Are they on the same path in 2017?