One would be excused for wondering why India’s first eleven is even bothering to put themselves through this international net practice session. India have comfortably dominated Sri Lanka in every department, netting their biggest away win in the first test, and defeating the Lankans by an innings and 53 runs in the second. Nobody expects the trend to change come the third Test at Pallekele, especially given the slew of injuries the home side have suffered ever since the series began.
India won the toss and opted to bat first once again. Ravindra Jadeja’s suspension meant Kuldeep Yadav earned his debut. Sri Lanka went in with three changes, after Herath injured his back. Sandakan, Kumara, and Fernando replaced Herath, Pradeep, and Dhanjaya de Silva. India’s only concern coming into the Test was Kohli’s atrocious form in Test cricket, something that seems to have been exacerbated by his captaincy. Sri Lanka on the other hand have looked clueless against a strong Indian team, floundering in their pursuit for success at home.
Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul walked out to the middle and immediately began plundering the Lankan bowlers for runs, getting India off to a flying start. Dhawan was particularly dominant, consistently maintaining a strike rate of more than a run per ball. The Sri Lankan spinners found the odd ball turning from one end of the pitch to the other, but failed to utilize the dry surface, especially since no wickets fell in the session.
Both batsmen raised their half centuries as India reached 100 in only the 18th over. Someone needed to tell the openers that this isn’t an ODI. The Sri Lankans were once again scratching their heads, trying to come up with a way to stop the onslaught. They came up empty handed as India showed their quality on an unpredictable pitch, ending the session on 134 for no loss.
India continued to go from strength to strength in the second session, continuing to dominate the bowlers. The Lankans missed a great opportunity to dismiss Rahul in his 50s, letting a catch in the slips go past. This was the second chance to dismiss him that the Lankans have failed to grasp at. He would go on to score 20-odd more runs before holding out to a sharp catch at Mid-On by Karunaratne off of Pushpakumara, begging the question of why it took 550+ wickets in domestic cricket for him to be selected. Rahul departed for 85.
Dhawan reached his second century of the series soon after as Pujara joined him. India then lost two quick wickets, with Dhawan falling to Pushpakumara as well, hitting one to square leg, into the diving hands of Chandimal. He scored 119 from 123 balls. Pujara departed too, looking shaky and unable to read the slower bowlers in the 33 balls he faced. Sandakan dismissed Pujara for a paltry 8 as he nicked one to Mathews at slip to get Sandakan his first wicket.
Kohli and Rahane were then tasked with stabilizing the innings, which they did, ensuring no more wickets were lost as the team headed into Tea. The pitch deteriorated quickly this session, and it will be interesting to see how it behaves for the remainder of the match. India ended on 235/3, now needing some direction as Sri Lanka made important breakthroughs at regular intervals.
Besides Pujara, Rahane too looked uncomfortable against the spinners, unable to judge the ball. Kohli, on the other end, looked solid in defense as he looked to play out the overs. Rahane soon succumbed on 17, ending his misery at the crease as Pushpakumara bowled him while he tried playing a cross batted shot. This was his third wicket of the innings. Herath who?
Once again, Ashwin proved his versatility as a lower order batsman. His resilience has been a handy feature of India’s batting lineup, often making the difference between a 450 and 600 for the visitors. Just when Kohli and him looked settled in the middle, Kohli fell for a valiant 42, edging the ball to Karunaratne at slip off of Sandakan.
Sri Lanka took the new ball at the start of the 83rd over as they look somewhat in control of the innings, having derailed India’s batting successfully after a breezy start. Remember, there is no Jadeja. After a brief period of uneventful play and Sri Lanka maintaining a tight line outside the off stump, Ashwin was caught behind to Fernando after scoring 31, bringing Hardik Pandya to the crease for the last two overs of the day. India end the day on 329-6 with Pandya at Saha at the crease, the latter batting on 13.
The fact that Sri Lanka’s spinners took all the wickets save one today speaks volumes about the way the pitch behaved today. Though Dilruwan Perera struggled and was expensive by Test standards, Pushpakumara and Sandakan received plenty of assistance from the dry, grassless pitch. At times, the pacers received unexpected movement into the batsmen, a worrying sign for the coming days. India will be lucky to get to 450 if the pitch stays the same overnight, which might not be a safe score considering the twin centuries from Sri Lankan batsmen under similar conditions in the previous Test.
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