After two days being massively interrupted by the incessant rains, it was time for some intense cricket action at the Eden Garden. The conditions were perfect to witness some swing bowling – there was grass on the pitch, overcast conditions, fantastic bounce and some lateral movement in the surface. This was a sporting wicket and one won’t be wrong in saying that it was alien to both the sides.

After cleaning up India for an unexpected 172, Sri Lankan batsmen knew the kind of mountain they had to climb against a pace attack that consisted of Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. There were variety and diversity in the pace attack; each bowler was different in their own unique way and carried a reputation. Suranga Lakmal made the ball talk by pitching the ball in right areas and was equally supported by other bowlers.

Many anticipated Bhuvneshwar Kumar to run through the Sri Lankan line-up with his deadly swing and he did live up to the expectations to an extent. India were favourites going into the series, there was absolutely no chance of them being bowled out for 172, but the wicket had a lot to offer to the seamers. And this Sri Lankan side looked confident.

Sri Lankan openers started off on a promising note, but soon Bhuvneshwar found his rhythm and got rid of them. After some loose fielding, erratic bowling and even an overthrow, Indian bowlers got their line and length bang on target. Both Bhuvneshwar and Shami were breathing fire with the new ball and made batting look extremely difficult.

Lahiru Thirimanne walked in at three and Angelo Mathews was batting at four. It was quite simple, if Sri Lanka had to put up a fight then this pair had to score a lot of runs. Suddenly, 172 started looking a massive task by looking at the way the ball was behaving. Initially, Sri Lanka scored runs with ease, but after losing two wickets, they had to fight hard for every run.

Mathews said, “We knew it was a challenging wicket and not going to be easy right from the outset. It’s a big challenge for the batters. Once in a while, you play to test yourself, your skill. I thought to start off, Lakmal was brilliant and all the bowlers did a fantastic job backed up by good fielding. We just had to go out there without thinking about the wicket and look to score runs.”

Mathews was returning to Test cricket after recovering from an injury and easily one of Sri Lanka’s best batsman. A lot of his team’s success depends on the way he fares. Dimuth Karunaratne has been in supreme form and his early fall only added pressure on the middle-order to deliver. There was pressure, there was intensity; Sri Lanka badly needed a stand and this pair to fire.

“It has been quite a frustrating year for me especially with injuries and going in and out of the side. It’s not easy to have the same rhythm. I had a good three years of cricket from 2013 onwards so my body is taking a toll now,” Mathews added.

Both Mathews and Thirimanne decided to bid their time out in the middle and wait for the right deliveries. Bhuvneshwar was moving the ball both ways, often creating doubts in the minds of the batsmen while Umesh and Shami made good use of the seam. They consistently beat both the batsmen’s outside edge. In fact, Umesh produced a healthy outside edge of Thirimanne’s willow, but Shikhar Dhawan failed to cup it at first slip.

Thirimanne and Mathews soon got their eyes in and started watching the ball closely. They left good deliveries well and put up a fight to bring Sri Lanka back into the game. Although they were fortunate on numerous occasions, one needed luck on such a surface and against such a dominant pace attack. Despite being beaten several times, they didn’t give it away and stitched a crucial 99-run partnership between them to lay a solid foundation for the middle-order to capitalise.

Post-Tea, Umesh Yadav infused life in India’s run with some menacing pace and movement. He found rhythm and tempo to get rid of two well-set batsmen. Umesh induced a fine outside edge off Thirimanne and then Mathews mistimed one to covers.

On his dismissal, Mathews said, “I was looking to score runs. It stopped a little but no excuses. I should have left it alone. Regardless of the wicket, you can’t hang in there forever. You are bound to get a good ball at any given time and you can get out. It’s all about scoring runs, you can’t be fluent on this wicket and you have to grind it out and try and score runs.”

Mathews spoke highly about the Indian pace attack. He said, “Three top-class bowlers they have in Shami, Umesh and Bhuvneshwar. Credit to Thiri(Thirimanne) the way he batted but 50s won’t take us anywhere, we got to score hundreds on this. Especially in the last few years, Indians have been producing some fantastic bowlers. The three names I took are top class. You need to be mentally prepared and have good skill to score off them. They keep coming at you. You can’t relax at all. If you see the loose balls were very minimal.”


Although both Mathews and Thirimanne just scored 52 and 51 respectively, but by looking at the way things have fared in the entire match, these contributions were crucial. Sri Lanka are now in a comfortable position to gain a healthy lead as they trail by just seven runs at stumps on Day 3.

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