Match Analysis

Sri Lanka's glorious competence

After being pummeled for 1462 runs in three innings, the hosts, led by two rookie left-arm spinners, were sublimely adequate for most of the first day in Pallekele

As with life, or lovers in Game of Thrones, the emotions cricket elicits from us are relative.
Take the India side. They are not, in normal circumstances, the least demonstrative bunch of men. When a wicket falls, Virat Kohli often races around the field fists clenched and vocal chords atremor, like he is being pursued by a machete murderer. Some of Hardik Pandya's celebrations are of such epic blockbuster quality, it seems a shame there is not helicopter crashing in the background, or CGI laser lights shooting from his orifices.
In this series, however, so dominant have India been, that they have largely found no reason to exult. Kohli has been more zen than zealot, barely working up an aggressive gesture since the second day in Galle. When Pandya took a catch at square leg at the SSC, he was so subdued he passed the ball to the umpire like he was discarding rotten fruit. At times, India have almost seemed embarrassed at how easily their success has come. Oh what? Another hundred? Good for the stats I guess. Do I want it on Blu-Ray? No, I think I'll just read the ball-by-ball commentary if I need to. Kumara to Dhawan, short, wide, FOUR.
The hosts, meanwhile, have just been plain embarrassed. Their fans have been so traumatised, it seems a serious oversight that the broadcast of certain sessions from Galle and Colombo were not preceded by the disclaimer: "Trigger warning for Sri Lankan cricket supporters". Sri Lanka gave away fifties with rare freedom, and India merrily plundered 1462 runs in three innings. All those runs had come at a combined rate of over four.
But day one of the third Test was unlike day one of the first Test (End of day score: India 399 for 3), or day one of the second Test (End of day score: India 344 for 3). Sri Lanka were lavishly pummeled at points of it of course. Lahiru Kumara's pitch map in his first two spells looked like ants escaping a flooding colony.
But still, following the early pummeling were one-and-a-half sessions of glorious competence. After hemorrhaging runs at a rate of 4.69 through the first 45 overs, they were sublimely adequate for most of the remaining 51.
The bowling of Malinda Pushpakumara was perhaps the most exquisitely satisfactory pleasure. For perhaps the first time in the series, a Sri Lanka bowler other than Rangana Herath bowled full spells with - try to keep your eyes from leaping out of their sockets - an element of discipline and control. His lines were astoundingly decent throughout the day, and even when he was attacked, at points, he continued to flight the ball, like he was a solid international quality spinner. With him at the bowling crease there was a gnawing hope: maybe in this Test, the close fielders would get more of a workout than the boundary boys.
In support of Pushpakumara was Lakshan Sandakan, a Sri Lanka spinner who - you may die of cardiac arrest when you read this - actually spun the ball. His end-of-day figures are 2 for 84, but still, there was a resplendently passable dip and rip to his deliveries, and at times some completely unobjectionable bounce. Remember that 2008 series, when Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis completely puzzled India batsmen, like they were sending down sudokus instead of balls? Well, Sandakan wasn't anywhere near as good as that, but he did deceive most of India's top order with his googly. Out of all Sri Lanka's bowlers, he was played-and-missed at the most as well.
At the end of the day, Dhawan even showered these two bowlers with mild praise, bestowing such faint compliments as: "The chinaman bowler is very nice. He was turning the odd ball a lot," or "The left-arm bowler is also good. He took wickets today." Sri Lanka's players have had these kinds of patronising plaudits from India players right through the tour, but the difference is that this time, the mild praise was earned. Sri Lanka took six whole wickets in the day, and only two catches were put down. That Dhawan hadn't bothered learning the bowlers' names was mere detail - it was more than enough that he had registered them as human beings who could potentially get him out.
With Wriddhiman Saha and Hardik Pandya at the crease India may still make more than 400 - a total higher than any Sri Lanka has managed in this series so far. And who knows what Sri Lanka have in store for us tomorrow. Even now, you shudder to think. But at least on day one, there was cricket that, if you are a Sri Lanka fan, did not make you want to throw yourself in the nearest well.
It was more or less magnificent.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando