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Chandimal's anarchic mayhem lifts Sri Lanka

Government buses clunk their way around the fort in Galle, while trains trumpet into the station nearby. At an election rally on Friday, the shrieking speech from the podium runs away like a locomotive as well. To the east, a top offspinner is reverse-slapped against the turn. To the west is an angry sea. There is noise. It is mayhem. This is Sri Lanka.

The day had begun with a whimper. Dhammika Prasad was bounced first ball, and left the field wringing fingers. When Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews set out sleepily, as the town awoke around them, they took a few overs to warm their arms. A few minutes were required for eyes to adjust to the bounce and for feet to begin moving to the beat of the pitch. They were off soon enough. Mathews socked Ishant Sharma through mid off, then crashed him to deep midwicket. Sangakkara clipped Varun Aaron to the fine leg fence. Next ball, he did it again.

When the two men had a small partnership cooking, a small crowd built up atop the fort. They craned their necks to see the ball. Mathews and Sangakkara have both made galactic strides in Tests, hitting more runs than any other batsmen in the past three years. Sri Lanka were still light years behind in the match, but while they were at the crease, hope was not yet lost. The day was heating up. As Sangakkara lifted Harbhajan Singh down the ground and Mathews clattered R Ashwin behind point, so was the contest.

Atop the fort, supporters winced when Sangakkara was snaffled at slip for 40. Ajinkya Rahane has caught and fielded like he is made of elastic all game. Fans grit their teeth when Mathews was caught off a spinner close in, next over. He had been out in similar fashion in the first innings.

There was an early glimpse of chaos from Dinesh Chandimal's bat. He fetched a ball from well outside off stump and put it behind deep square leg for four. He should have been out three balls later had the umpire detected a thin edge. Before long, Lahiru Thirimanne had survived a bat-pad catch as well. The parade of Sri Lankan wickets was giving way to madness. Virat Kohli was just mad. Had Nigel Llong met his stare, he might have required counselling.

After lunch, Chandimal was pandemonium, just like the city around him. First ball, he walloped four with the sweep, which has been getting batsmen in trouble through the match. India's spinners had run riot with the bounce they got from this pitch. Now it was Chandimal who was bouncing out to them, drilling balls through midwicket, and swinging others over square leg, while fireworks from the rally exploded above him, and kites took flight from the fort.

By the time he was crashing Ishant through point and slashing him over the slips, men and women who had come dressed in party green for Sri Lanka's prime minister, had crossed the road and lined the venue's banks. The man they have come to see preaches of law and order, but they are in thrall of Chandimal's anarchic manifesto instead.

Before tea Kohli plugs up the leg side, thinking surely logic prevails and he top edges one of those damned sweeps. Now lost deep in a world of chaos, Chandimal finds an even more manic route. Soon, he is reverse-hitting Ashwin past cover. A grey langur bounds clean past the pitch. The batsman reverse-clobbers Harbhajan for six. The wheels have come off reality. Spacetime is being warped. The crowd is going insane.

"I should say about the reverse sweep that it's not a shot I've played in school cricket, club cricket or international cricket before," Chandimal said. "But every time we have practice I've practiced the shot. I thought the best time to play it would be today. It worked well. Even before I went out, I thought I would sweep and reverse sweep the bowlers."

It wasn't so long ago that Chandimal failed so emphatically in a Galle Test, he was packed off to an A team tour in England, mid-way through a Test series. It wasn't so long ago that he was made captain of the T20 team, then axed from it altogether during a World T20 campaign, in which he could barely pierce the infield.

Through all the chaos in Chandimal's own life, through the close escape from the tsunami, through the political wrangles at Sri Lanka Cricket which affected him most from among the young players, Chandimal has won through. On Friday, he won through with his team with chaos of his own making. He made 51 of the 65 runs produced by the last three stands.

India are still firm favourites to win the match, but in three hours on Friday, Chandimal gave the hosts a chance. He spurred noise. He made mayhem. He inspired Sri Lanka.