There was a lot of hullabaloo over Indian Captain Virat Kohli not enforcing the follow-on, yet again. When the Sri Lankans were bundled out for 291 runs, giving India a lead of 309 runs, Kohli decided to bat for the second time. Considering the strength in the Indian bowling line-up, there was no doubt in their capabilities to bowl out the hosts under 300. However, the skipper did not want to take a slightest of chances to avoid a draw result, provided the Lankans go on to bat throughout the Day three and four. You just cannot write-off Sri Lanka at their backyard. This time around for India, Abhinav Mukund, grabbed the opportunity and with a score of 81 and a super catch and a run out, might have seized his place in the next Test as well.
However, India would have been delighted to watch their captain regain his form. Kohli, who had failed to score a fifty in his last six Test innings, repaired the damage by scoring a career’s 17th Test hundred. Now, he is just a ton behind Sunil Gavaskar (11) for most number of centuries as the Indian Test captain. With Kohli back on track, even his average has returned to 50 and with that happening Kohli must have had a great sigh of relief. As it is no secret, how badly he hates to underperform in whichever format he plays.
Seven deliveries later, he signalled the umpire with the awaited declaration and set Sri Lanka with a huge target of 550 to chase down more than a day to go. By Sri Lanka, it meant a 10-man Lanka side as their middle-order batsman Asela Gunaratne had to be pulled mid way of the Test with an injury he suffered while fielding during India’s first innings.
Even with a full side, it looked difficult for the hosts to survive against World No. 2 Team India in a fourth innings of a Test; now their situation has gone more miserable. When they batted for the first time in the ongoing Galle Test, only three batsmen – Upul Tharanga (64), Angelo Matthews (82) and Dilruwan Perera (92) batted freely against the strong Indian attack.
The last time, India toured Sri Lanka in 2015, the series was dominated by the spinners with Ravichandran Ashwin (21) ending with most wickets ahead of Prasad and Herath. This time around the fast bowlers have turned the tables around. For Sri Lanka, it has been Nuwan Pradeep, who has managed to pick six wickets and for India, Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav have looked in a great rhythm, well supported by the debutant Hardik Pandya.
Sri Lanka recently recorded their highest successful run chase in Tests when they successfully chased won 388 runs in the fourth innings against Zimbabwe in the one-off Test. the target was not as mammoth as 550 and more importantly the opponents were not a higher-ranked side. However, even a team like Zimbabwe had managed to threaten Sri Lanka in the Test. At one point, the hosts were 178 for 4 and the Zimbabwean bowlers led by Captain Graeme Cremer looked to bowl out the Lankans. But, a determined Gunaratne in the middle stuck to the crease like a sticky tape and saved his side from a humiliation they faced after losing the one-day series.
With more than a day to go in the ongoing Galle Test, Sri Lankans have begun their chase of 550 runs. Sri Lanka, who were already a 10-man side with Gunaratne injured, have already found themselves in trouble by losing two early wickets. In the absence of Chandimal and Gunaratne, Tharanga had a massive role on the top. It was necessary for him to lay the foundation and set a platform for the others to take it from there. In the third over of Sri Lanka’s final innings, he edged it straight to Kohli at second slip but was fortunate that Kohli, despite being an excellent fielder, dropped a sitter.
Two deliveries later, Mohammad Shami cleaned up Tharanga’s stumps by himself. Tharanga’s dismissal was certainly a huge blow for Sri Lanka, owning to the target they have ahead of them. Meanwhile, the debutant, Danushka Gunathilaka, succumbed to the pressure and fell against India’s other pacer, Umesh Yadav.
At the end of nine overs, Sri Lanka were 49 for 2 and still needed 501 runs with seven wickets to spare. Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Medis are at the crease and the two put together have an experience of 56 Tests. The next in line are Matthews, Niroshan Dickwella and Perera; all three have a capability to play long innings. However, let’s see if these players, together, can pull off a miracle or India will make it win No. 17 under Virat Kohli.