Dhananjaya de Silva's third Test century helped Sri Lanka keep India at bay til tea on the final day of the third Test. © BCCI

Dhananjaya de Silva’s third Test century helped Sri Lanka keep India at bay til tea on the final day of the third Test. © BCCI

Dhananjaya de Silva battled cramps, testing conditions and tight bowling to score a brilliant century that kept Sri Lanka’s hopes alive in the third and final Test against India at the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi on Wednesday (December 6).

De Silva made a 219-ball 119 – the first fourth-innings ton overseas by a Sri Lankan in ten years – before being forced to retire hurt with cramps late in the second session on the final day. The fighting knock, though, took Sri Lanka to 226 for 5 by tea with Roshan Silva (38) and Niroshan Dickwella (11) in the middle. The visitors, set an unlikely target of 410, still have a minimum of 25 overs to battle out, light permitting.

There weren’t too many demons on the pitch but a fifth-day challenge against India’s spinners is never an easy task. De Silva stood up, combining patience with aggression to keep Sri Lanka in the game. He received good support first from Dinesh Chandimal (36) and then Silva. The de Silva-Chandimal partnership lasted 33 overs while the de Silva-Silva stand stretched for 21 overs before the former walked off.

Sri Lanka started the day with their backs against the wall at 31 for 3. The visitors would have pinned their hopes on Angelo Mathews, but it was young de Silva who rose to the occasion while the first-innings centurion lasted just six overs.

Mathews had been extremely lucky to be dropped thrice in the first innings, but luck evaded him this time. Jadeja induced the edge, and Ajinkya Rahane pounced on a sharp catch at slip to send Mathews back for just one. The lack of fortune was also because Jadeja had overstepped and Joel Wilson, the umpire, didn’t spot it.

With Jadeja in the midst of a tight spell, Sri Lanka could have easily made the mistake of going into their shells, but de Silva ensured that wouldn’t happen.

He weathered the initial storm but also knew when to switch gears. When Ishant Sharma tried bouncing him out, de Silva responded by pulling the pacer for two boundaries. He also stepped down to drive Jadeja down the ground and later lofted R Ashwin over mid-on to go past his half-century. The nimble footwork was also complemented by cheeky paddles and confident sweeps.

It helped that de Silva had his captain and another first-innings centurion in Chandimal at the other end for guidance. The duo never got bogged down and kept the scoreboard ticking with quick singles, also stealing overthrows at the slightest opportunity.

Play was meandering on when a late twist induced plenty of drama, with Chandimal bowled off a no-ball on 24 with less than ten minutes left for lunch.

Jadeja produced a stunning delivery that went past the outside edge to hit off-stump, but Anil Chaudhary, the third umpire, ruled a very marginal call in the favour of the batsman, much to the dismay of the Indian camp.

They didn’t have to wait much longer though, as Ashwin provided the breakthrough soon after lunch. He dragged Chandimal down the track with flight and then deceived him with drift and sharp turn to hit the off-stump.

The 112-run stand broken with nearly two full sessions left and no senior batsmen remaining, Sri Lanka were in danger of being rolled over. De Silva, though, stepped up to the occasion yet again. This time, he did it as the senior partner, guiding a nervous Silva, the debutant.

De Silva began the second session with a flurry of boundaries that took him to his 90s, before slowing down due to cramps. He was visibly in pain and had the physio tending to him plenty of times, but de Silva battled on.

The well-deserved century was reached with a beautiful back-foot punch off Mohammed Shami, earning him rich applause even from the Indian camp.

The job was only half-done, especially since his pain only grew with every ball he batted. The agony made de Silva play a few shots, which also resulted in Ashwin dropping a tough return chance.

Forget running between the wickets, at one stage de Silva couldn’t even move his foot to defend. He still didn’t throw it away, but with some 20 minutes to go for tea, de Silva had no option but to hobble off the field.

Silva and Dickwella saw through the remaining overs to the break – which included one from Ishant with the second new ball – without further damage.