If you happened to watch the first two days of India’s opening Test against Sri Lanka, and then separately watched how day four unfolded on Sunday (November 19), you might have been fooled into thinking that you had watched two separate Tests at two separate venues, with only the opposition remaining the same.
That was how much the surface and conditions seemed to have changed character in a couple of days at the Eden Gardens, not to speak of how much more assured India seemed while batting, as KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan progressed in tandem, as if marching to the same drum beat of runs. The advent of Rangana Herath into the attack unlocked all of Dhawan’s attacking instincts though, as he pulled away from his partner with a flurry of boundaries. Living by the sword, he perished by it too, but not before he had racked up a 116-ball 94. Rahul was till batting at the close, on a classy 73 with Cheteshwar Pujara giving him company on two.
Both openers had been fluent and untroubled in a 166-run opening stand, and by stumps, India had reached 171 for 1 in 39.3 overs, opening up a lead of 49 when bad light once again signalled the end of play.
Given the quantum of lead and that only a day’s play remains in this rain-affected Test, a draw is the most likely outcome, unless there is an adventurous declaration followed by a collapse, or a collapse followed by a spirited chase.
In a Test where they hadn’t yet dominated a session outright, India’s opening partnership corrected that anomaly in some style. India had begun batting with a deficit of 122 runs to overcome after a Herath-inspired Sri Lanka stretched their first-innings score to 294. Having done plenty to give Sri Lanka a handy lead with an innings-high score of 67, Herath had the mortification of watching that deficit wiped off when Dhawan contemptuously deposited him into the stands straight back.
India had begun after tea on 70 without loss, and with Dhawan stepping it up a gear, the last session brought 101 runs in 22.3 overs. Not only did the bowling seem to lack penetration, but Sri Lanka continued their DRS form by losing both reviews to poor judgment calls, and also didn’t have Suranga Lakmal available for large parts of the innings. The pacer, the destroyer in chief during India’s first-innings 172, was off the field for some time and thus bowled only eight overs of the 39.3 his team has sent down so far.
Sri Lanka’s only success came when Dhawan stepped out to smash Dasun Shanaka but only succeeded in getting a thick inside-edge that was gobbled up by the ‘keeper. Strangely, Dhawan chose to review the decision, meaning India lost a review too.
The Dhawan-Rahul show meant the second half of the day was firmly India’s, but Herath had ensured the first half belonged to the visiting side.
Herath had walked in at 201 for 7, with Mohammed Shami having found wonderful rhythm, ably supported by Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Between them, the duo had taken three wickets in 10 balls after Dinesh Chandimal and Niroshan Dickwella, the overnight batsmen, had stretched their partnership to 62 on resuming at 165 for 4. Shami had threatened the outside edge several times, and finally found it, Dickwella snapped up by Virat Kohli at second slip. In the next over, Shanaka padded up to a Bhuvneshwar inducker, having misread the ball completely to be trapped in front. Shami then returned to prise out Chandimal, who had never looked comfortable during his stay and finally got the edge he had looked like getting all through.
Herath and Dilruwan Perera got together for a mood changing 43-run stand, which was not without its moment of controversy.
Off the last ball of the 57th over, Shami struck Perera on the pads with an incoming delivery, and Nigel Llong had no hesitation in ruling the batsman out. After a brief look at Herath, Perera made to walk off, when he suddenly turned around and motioned for a review. What made his action odd was he was walking off in the direction of the dressing room, and it brought back the spectre of the Steven Smith ‘brainfade’ in Bangalore earlier this year that led to a war of words between Kohli and the Australians.
Eventually Perera did fall to Shami, a peach that moved away getting the nick into Wriddhiman Saha’s safe hands. But Herath was far from done, and continued on his merry way. A cover-drive for four brought up his half-century while also taking the lead to 100, and he fell only after the second new ball was taken, slashing Bhuvneshwar straight to deep point.
Kohli only used two overs of spin in the entire extended first session, even coming on to bowl himself.