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Match Analysis

Sri Lanka commit to the grind

A maiden ton to Kithuruwan Vithanage at almost a-run-a-ball was the most telling personal contribution, as he joined the wave of young players suggesting Sri Lanka's future is more secure than previously imagined

Kithuruwan Vithanage celebrates his century with Mahela Jayawardene, Bangladesh v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Mirpur, 3rd day, January 29, 2014

Kithuruwan Vithanage's maiden Test hundred was scored at nearly run a ball  •  AFP

As the Sri Lanka middle order, led by Mahela Jayawardene, ground Bangladesh into the Mirpur dirt on day three, perhaps little was revealed about the extent of their skill, or the depth of their character. Jayawardene did not admit this had been the easiest of his seven double-centuries - even if it had brought the most muted celebrations - but he did concede that, at times, the hosts' efforts subsided to allow his team easier progress.
Jayawardene has also prospered in such conditions before, and had already been in fine touch in the approach to the series. Angelo Mathews' 86 was further evidence of increasing batting maturity, but also perhaps of a frustrating tendency to fall when three figures are in sight - he had already hit two scores in the 90s in the past month.
A maiden ton to Kithuruwan Vithanage at almost a-run-a-ball was the most telling personal contribution, as he joined the wave of young players suggesting Sri Lanka's future is more secure than previously imagined. Vithanage has a reputation for power and positivity in first-class cricket, but few Sri Lanka batsmen translate home success into such emphatic Test returns in as few Tests as he has had. Far sterner examinations await him than this friendly surface and tired attack, and he will probably never again arrive with 554 runs already on the scoreboard. But there was technique and intelligence to match his spunk, and to outscore Jayawardene - already batting on a ton - during their 176-run partnership is a praiseworthy effort.
"The way Kithuruwan batted today - that's the first time I batted with him - he looks very promising, very confident out there, the way he was striking the ball," Jayawardene said. "All in all we've got some young talent coming through. It's important we give them the opportunity and guide them in tough situations and they'll carry forward the good work we've done."
Day three did reveal, however, something of Sri Lanka's mentality. Not content with a first-innings lead of 400 the visitors spurned the chance to have half a session or more, bowling to Bangladesh. That Sri Lanka plays conservative cricket is no surprise to fans who followed their tour of the UAE. Although a deterioration of that approach had ended with Sri Lanka receiving an almighty shakedown in Sharjah, they proved they remain committed to the grind, against Bangladesh.
That outlook is not without merit, but a strong argument may be presented that a 498-run lead is overkill, particularly against a team that has never come close to defeating Sri Lanka. In their last Test match less than a year ago, 240 and 265 were the totals Bangladesh managed. The pitch had flattened out since the hosts were dismissed for 232 on day one, but it has also become more profitable for spinners, of which Sri Lanka played two.
The team might argue though, that mounting a mammoth total not only served to demoralise opposition batsmen, it also ensured Bangladesh would begin on a pitch that was in worse shape. The wicket of Tamim Iqbal, whose leading edge caught a ball he did not expect to turn so much, may be presented as supporting evidence.
"We were looking at a 400-run lead because the wicket still looks good," Jayawardene said. "So we needed as much as we could get. We had to make a call to try and give them about 15 overs, but the way Kithuruwan batted, the management and the captain decided to give us a few more overs. We got the message that we'd get another four-five overs max to try and get a hundred and a double-hundred. It wasn't easy because they had fields spread. We had to bide our time a bit longer, and that was the call. Having as many runs on the board as we've got gives us the opportunity to attack more tomorrow."
It is difficult to imagine this team would choose to pursue the quickest, most emphatic win they can manage. On this occasion, they have a chance of dealing the final blow on the fourth day, particularly as some deliveries had begun to misbehave towards the end of Sri Lanka's innings.
"There's a bit of rough being created so there's a bit of spin," Jayawardene said of the surface. "Shakib Al Hasan spun quite a few yesterday and today. We just needed to make sure we keep putting the ball in the right areas as many times as possible and try and wait for those opportunities to come our way and try and create that pressure. That's what we did to them in the first innings, so we'll try and do the same."
Fans will note there has been no public concession that negative strategy brought Sri Lanka's downfall in Sharjah. The team has not been anywhere near as defensive in this match, nor is there much chance Bangladesh can turn this Test around, as Pakistan did. There are also good reasons for delaying Wednesday's declaration - it is just hoped that Sri Lanka know boldness and intent can put an opposition under pressure just as well as a blown out scoreboard.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here