India 171 for 1 (Dhawan 94, Rahul 73*) and 172 lead Sri Lanka 294 (Herath 67, Bhuvneshwar 4-88, Shami 4-100) by 49 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Chopra: SL bowlers looked ordinary on day four
Aakash Chopra looks back on a fruitful day for India as the first Test nears an exciting climax in Kolkata
Openers KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan capitalised on vastly improved batting conditions, both overhead and underfoot, to lead India's recovery on the fourth day in Kolkata. After Rangana Herath's third Test fifty had bulked up Sri Lanka's lead to 122, there was only one likely winner in the game. But then after Dhawan struck a 116-ball 94 and Rahul hit an unbeaten 73, there would be none it seemed.
Mohammed Shami, on his home ground, rattled through Sri Lanka's middle order to finish with four wickets, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar added two wickets on the fourth day to return 4 for 88 in bowling Sri Lanka out for 294. With Umesh Yadav also taking two wickets, this was the third time India's seamers took all ten wickets in a Test innings at home, and the first such instance since 1983-84.
Rahul and Dhawan then replied with aggression that has typified their recent Test run. Sunny overhead conditions and a surface that seemed to have settled down helped drastically.
On most pitches, a slightly fuller-than-good length is ideal. But Lahiru Gamage bowled on either side of that, dishing out three half-volleys to Rahul in his first over, which were punched for three boundaries through mid-off. He compensated with a shorter length thereafter, erring in Dhawan's wheelhouse, who cut and pulled gleefully.
In Kolkata's humidity, Dinesh Chandimal was quickly forced to turn his spinners. With no turn, it played nicely into the openers' hands. Rahul nudged and nurdled, opening and closing the bat face to accumulate runs, while Dhawan was more expansive, often using his feet to loft the ball straight.
Herath, more often than not Sri Lanka's second-innings star, was taken apart. In 29 overs, India had wiped out their deficit, and undone more than three days of diligence from Sri Lanka.
With Dhawan on 94 and the light fading, he committed the only two mistakes of his innings off the same delivery. He drove loosely at Dasun Shanaka, but an inswinger found his inside edge. He reviewed immediately, and replays showed a sharp spike as ball passed bat. India finished the fourth day at 171 for 1, with a lead of 49. Cheteshwar Pujara, who finished unbeaten on 2, could become the ninth batsman to bat on all five days of a Test.
Niroshan Dickwella and Chandimal began the fourth morning under sunny skies by counterattacking India's seamers. But like Sadeera Samarawickrama found out on the third day, hitting through the line can be fraught with risk against the moving ball because it threatens both edges. Their approach worked for the first half hour, taking Sri Lanka to 200, a handy lead of 28, but just when it seemed like Sri Lanka wrested control, India hit back. Sri Lanka's middle order tried to make contact with the ball, as opposed to allowing themselves to be beaten by playing the line. It was a ploy to move the Test along, and on a seaming surface like this, it wasn't a bad one.
Dickwella had punched, cut and pulled merrily, but was also beaten repeatedly. Shami got one to seam in from his around-the-wicket angle, then bounce and jag away - enough to find the outside edge, but not exaggerated movement to beat the edge.
Bhuvneshwar, in the next over, set up Dasun Shanaka with an outswinger well outside off. He started the next ball on a similar line, but it hooped back prodigiously to hit Shanaka, offering no shot with an intent to leave as many as he could, on the back pad. Only James Anderson is more adept at using this tactic with the swinging ball in Tests currently.
Five balls later, Chandimal was caught fishing outside his off stump against Shami. Again, the ball did just enough to find the outside edge. Suddenly, Sri Lanka had slipped to 201 for 7.
It got worse for Sri Lanka when Dilruwan Perera was given out lbw off a sharp inducker from Shami that beat his inside edge. Dilruwan, it appeared, accepted the decision and turned around to walk towards the dressing room, but asked for a review moments later. Replays showed the ball hit Dilruwan outside the line of off stump.
Herath was particularly effective with cross-batted strokes on either side of the wicket. He would frequently perch on the back foot, and depending on the line, either cut through point or pull past midwicket. Considering deliveries on a good or short length were routinely beating him with a straight bat, it was a rewarding strategy. He had moved to 67 before slicing a catch to deep backward point off Bhuvneshwar.