Nuwan Pradeep and Upul Tharanga were the standout performers for the hosts, the former with his maiden five-for in his 25th Test and the latter with a fluent half-century replete with sparkling strokeplay through the off-side. India, on the other hand, relied on a string of more than passable performances to tighten their grip, Abhinav Mukund’s brilliance in the field earning them two late wickets that put the icing on the cake.
India would have looked to build significantly on their overnight tally of 399 for 3 when they resumed through the well-set fourth-wicket pair of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. However, both of them were dismissed inside the first hour as Sri Lanka pulled up their socks after a miserable day out on Wednesday. It was left to R Ashwin, unbelievably easy on the eye, and Hardik Pandya, muscular and beefy on debut, to validate the depth in the batting as India pulled away to post an even 600.
Pradeep’s industry, on view for the entire duration of the first day, was finally backed up by the support cast of Lahiru Kumara and Rangana Herath. While that meant Sri Lanka appeared a lot more incisive on a surface gradually beginning to play slow tricks, the inability to consistently string together pressure-building overs ensured that around the loss of wickets, India were able to score at a relatively fair clip. Pradeep’s final returns of 6 for 132 were totally deserved, just reward for ploughing a lone furrow on the first day and then for continuing to persevere despite the burgeoning scoreboard pressure on the second.
Sri Lanka were making a fist of it at 125 for 3 when Abhinav’s reflexes and sharp thinking ran Tharanga out. A quarter of an hour later, he flew to his right, also at silly-point, to pluck a catch out of thin air and send Niroshan Dickwella packing, reducing Sri Lanka to an anaemic 154 for 5 at the end of another extended day.
Scoreboard pressure must have been something Sri Lanka would have been mindful of when they started their reply a batsman short, and in the unsettling knowledge that Asela Gunaratne, who broke his left thumb on the first morning, was out for eight weeks. Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav worked up good pace and got the ball to both climb and nip around, and it didn’t take long before India drew first blood. Umesh, the lead paceman in Shami’s injury-enforced absence last season, produced a beautiful inswinger that forced Dimuth Karunaratne to play down the wrong line and trap him palpably in front. The review was so inexplicable that even Rod Tucker, the TV umpire, was forced to say, “This doesn’t look like a great review, does it?”
Tharanga was sucked into a play-and-miss routine, but unfazed by what was happening around him, he played some outstanding strokes through the off-side, off both front foot and back and largely against Umesh, whose lengths were extremely inconsistent. Danushka Gunathilaka, on debut, began with two wonderful back foot punches off Shami but then withdrew into his shell, his outside edge always too close to the ball against the quicker bowlers for Sri Lanka’s comfort.
Virat Kohli brought Ashwin on in the eighth over and the offspinner immediately started to make things happen. On many other days, Ashwin will bowl far worse and have a bushel of wickets to show; this time around, with very little luck to speak of, he put Tharanga and Gunathilaka through the wringer, like he was to Angelo Mathews later in the innings, but the wickets just wouldn’t come.