Galle, Aug 14: India were set a tricky target of 176 runs to win the first cricket Test against Sri Lanka after Dinesh Chandimal produced a counter-attacking unbeaten 162 to lead a spirited fightback for the hosts, here today.
Tottering at a precarious 95/5 at one stage after conceding a 192-run first innings lead, Chandimal staged a remarkable recovery as he notched up a career-best knock to help Sri Lanka score 367 in the 2nd innings. (Rahane sets world record)
Chandimal's effort not only helped the Lankans avoid an innings defeat but gave them enough lead to throw open the match on a track, providing some turn for the slow bowlers.
India were 23 for one at stumps on third day, requiring another 153 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series. The visitors lost opener KL Rahul (5), who was trapped LBW by Rangana Herath. Shikhar Dhawan (13) and Ishant Sharma (5) were at the crease at the end of day's play.
The 25-year-old wicket-keeper batsman found able allies in Lahiru Thirimanne (44) and Jehan Mubarak (49) as they put on valuable partnerships to frustrate the Indians.
The Indians had themselves to blame to allow the hosts wriggle out of a tight position while some dubious umpiring decisions also went against them today.
It was a commendable fightback from the Sri Lankans, who counter-attacked the Indian spinners and completely destroyed their rhythm.
10 wickets in the match for Ashwin
At lunch time, it looked that India will run away with an easy victory with Sri Lanka reeling at 108 for five but Chandimal changed the complexion of the game as he clobbered the bowlers to record his fourth Test century.
Chandimal hit 23 boundaries, including four sixes, in his fighting knock and raised a 125-run stand for the Thirimanne for the sixth wicket. With Mubarak he was involved in a 82-run partnership for the seventh wicket.
Off-spinner R Ashwin, who took 6/46 in the first innings, was the pick of the Indian bowlers with 4/114, completing his third 10-wicket haul in a Test. Leg-spinner Amit Mishra took 3/61 while Ishant Sharma, Varun Aaron and Harbhajan Singh accounted for one batsman each.
The day began well for the Indians as they managed to get rid of the overnight batsman, Dhammika Prasad (3) in the very first ball off paceman Varun Aaron.
Retiring great Kumar Sangakkara (40) and captain Angelo Matthews (39) briefly provided some resistance before they were dismissed at the stroke of lunch.
The script took a completely different turn after lunch as Chandimal led a spirited Lankan recovery with some audacious stroke-play.
World record for Rahane
The day also saw Ajinkya Rahane set a new fielding world record by taking eight catches in a Test match, eclipsing the record of five others.
Chandimal started after tea on 98*, with the Lankan score reading 263/6, and didnt waste much in getting to his fourth Test hundred in the first over after the break.
He got there off exactly 100 balls, inclusive of 11 fours and two sixes, in the 59th over of the innings.
He was given company at the other end by Jehan Mubarak and the two continued in their attacking manner after the break, particularly Chandimal, as Mubarak was happy to play second fiddle whilst inching towards his half-century. But it was not to be, as he fell one run short of his maiden half century.
Bowling a sharper spell than he did previously in the match, Harbhajan Singh (1-73) took his first wicket of the game in the 69th over, as Mubarak edged to Ajinkya Rahane at first slip, his seventh catch of the Test.
He created a world record for the most catches in the outfield by a fielder in a Test eight when he snapped up Rangana Herath (1) off Amit Mishra four overs later.
Thereafter Chandimal took centre-stage as he protected the number ten batsman Tharindu Kaushal (7) ably. They batted together for 8.2 overs, putting on 41 crucial runs, during which Chandimal really took the attack to the cleaners whilst farming the strike well.
New ball does the trick
He scored 32 off those runs, coming at run-a-ball again, as the Lankan lead swelled past 150 runs. Chandimal himself crossed the 150-mark off 161 balls, going past his previous best of 116* against Bangladesh at the same ground in 2013.
India took the new ball and that did the trick, with Ishant Sharma getting rid of Kaushal in the 82nd over. And then Ashwin returned to bowl last batsman Nuwan Pradeep (3) in the very next over, leaving Chandimal stranded and India a tricky total to chase.
It was the first time an Indian spinner had taken 10 wickets in a match outside India since 2008, when Harbhajan Singh did so at the same ground.
Earlier, a 125-run partnership for the 6th wicket between Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne saved Sri Lanka in the post-lunch session.
The two batsmen had ridden their luck before the lunch-break, but made sure not to make the same mistakes again.
They came out attacking against the Indian bowlers and didn't spare either the spinners or the pacers, treating them with disdain.
They took 48 runs in nine overs after lunch as in the 40th over of the innings Chandimal brought up his 9th Test fifty off 48 balls, and still kept up the attack on the bowlers.
200-run mark for hosts
At the one-hour mark in the session, Lanka had pulled abreast of the Indian lead as they took 84 runs in 15 overs bowled in that hour's of play.
The Lankan 200-mark came up in the 47th over as Thirimanne-Chandimal celebrated their 100-partnership off only 120 balls. The best part about their partnership was that they didn't present even the slightest chance to the Indian bowlers, taking the three spinners for 68 runs in 13 overs.
The breakthrough finally came when Ashwin was re-introduced into the attack, with Ajinkya Rahane taking another exceptional catch at first slip. Thirimanne was the batsman dismissed, falling to one that bounced and turned away.
It didn't deter Chandimal and Mubarak though, who continued on without any futher loss before tea and added 43 unbeaten runs for the 7th wicket.
In the morning session, Sri Lanka were deep in trouble, placed at 108/5 at lunch, after Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews had earlier put on 87 runs for the fourth wicket in a bid to resurrect the Lankan innings.
Wicket off the first ball of day
The day began with night watchman Dhammika Prasad (3) looking to delay his departure for as long as possible.
But Varun Aaron starting the proceedings had other ideas. The very first delivery of the day rose sharply on the batsman and the tail-ender couldnt negotiate the bouncer with Rahane completing the catch at gully.
This brought Mathews and Sangakkara together at the crease, and they resisted the Indian bowling for 20.4 overs. Sangakkara got into the groove with some dazzling boundaries off Ishant, and then spin was introduced.
The runs had started to flow easily, when at the stroke of the hour mark in the morning session, Mathews dispatched Ashwin for a six.
The break-through finally came in the 25th over as the ball spun sharply and had extra bounce to take Sangakkara's edge and Rahane took a stunning, diving one-handed catch at slip.
The left-hander walked off to a standing ovation from the crowd gathered at the Galle International Cricket Stadium.