Sachin Tendulkar led India's attempt to stay alive in the series on an attritional day at the SSC, battling his way, supported by VVS Laxman and Suresh Raina, to a determined century that took India closer to avoiding the follow-on. This, after Sri Lanka's spinners brought the Test back to life just when it seemed the bat would dominate for the third successive day.
The conditions on Day 3 were still batsman-friendly but the Sri Lankan bowlers varied their pace and lengths with greater skill than their Indian counterparts to create chances. However, India survived a couple of nervy moments that helped turn the third day, if only slightly, in their favour. When on 29, Tendulkar attempted to upper-cut Dilhara Fernando and was dropped by wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene. And an appeal against Raina was turned down in the final session when he was struck on the pads by a straighter delivery from Tillakaratne Dilshan; replays suggested the ball would have gone on to hit leg.
Charged, yet again, with the responsibility of reviving the Indian innings, Tendulkar batted with assuredness amid the pressure. The spinners didn't extract much turn though they did generate good bounce, but Tendulkar adapted well, opting to deal with the length deliveries outside off with caution while treating the ones that were pitched short harshly. He struck Suraj Randiv for eight boundaries through the off side - point, cover and past slip - and comfortably picked off deliveries bowled on his pads for a couple more. The one time he did step out to the spinners was when he brought up his half-century, a clean strike over long-on.
Tendulkar played the ball late on a slowish track, and targeted Randiv while approaching his century, reaching the landmark, his 48th in Tests, with a sweep through square leg. He also ensured a steady flow of singles with Raina, whose strokeplay masked the nerves of a batsman making his first Test appearance.
Raina was uncertain early on against the round-the-wicket line bowled by the two spinners, failing to pick a legspinner from Mendis and leaving a straighter one from Randiv. But, unlike Tendulkar, it was against the length deliveries that he was most comfortable. He stepped out to both spinners to drive them through mid-on, and struck Dammika Prasad for consecutive boundaries. He was equally solid in defence, offering the full face, and eased towards his maiden half-century with a couple of delicious cover drives off the spinners.
Tendulkar began India's recovery after Virender Sehwag's swipe on 99 triggered a rush of wickets that undermined a strong start. Facing Randiv's first delivery of the day, Sehwag stepped out and swung hard towards cow corner, missed and was stumped to become the offspinner's maiden Test victim.
The wickets that followed were a consequence of some crafty bowling from the spinning pair. Mendis snared opener M Vijay with a googly that he failed to pick after erroneously opting to play the length delivery off the back foot. Rahul Dravid was trapped in front with a ball that skidded on before Laxman joined Tendulkar to rebuild the innings.
Laxman was edgy during his stay and was troubled by Randiv as he played inside the line while expecting more turn. He got the leading edge twice and edged one to slip on the bounce. He appeared far more comfortable against Mendis, capitalising with a couple of boundaries when he was generous enough to stray on the pads. But his concentration wavered and he didn't read Mendis' wrong 'un and was struck in front of leg stump. His wicket at the stroke of tea shifted a see-saw day Sri Lanka's way, but Tendulkar and Raina, with a bit of fortune, put India's survival plans back on track.