Colombo: India were eyeing their first series win on Sri Lankan soil in 22 years by reducing the hosts to a shaky 67 for 3 after setting a daunting victory target of 386 in the third and final cricket Test here today. Resuming at the precarious overnight score of 21 for 3, India did well to score 274 in their second innings and then leave the islanders miserably placed on an eventful penultimate day.
India now need to take the remaining seven wickets on a fifth day track to record a historic Test series win. India had last won a Test series in Sri Lanka under Mohammed Azharuddin’s captaincy with a 1-0 verdict in 1993. It was yet another absorbing day of Test cricket as India began the day by consolidating their position to score 274 in the second innings with useful contributions from R Ashwin (58), Rohit Sharma (50), Stuart Binny (49), Amit Mishra (39) and Naman Ojha (35). For Sri Lanka, Dhammika Prasad (4/69) and Nuwan Pradeep (4/62) were the main wicket takers.
The good work by the lower order batsmen was carried on by the seam bowlers who dismissed Upul Tharanga (0), Dimuth Karunaratne (0) and Dinesh Chandimal (18) in quick succession to give the team a firm control of the match.
Kaushal Silva (24) and captain Angelo Mathews (22) were at the crease when the stumps were drawn on a day which saw as many as 10 wickets fall and some heated exchange of words between the rival players. Sri Lanka still trail by 319 runs with seven wickets in hand. Sri Lanka’s highest ever successful run chase on home soil in the fourth innings has been 352 against South Africa in Colombo in 2006. Recently, Pakistan had scored 382 for three against Sri Lanka to win a Test match.
Set a daunting victory target, Sri Lankan innings began on a disastrous note as Ishant Sharma (2/14) and Umesh Yadav (1/32) produced a hostile opening spell to knock off the top order.
Sri Lanka will have to bat out of their skin on the fifth day on a deteriorating Sinhalese Sports Club track to draw the match and prevent India from clinching the series with a 2-1 margin.
India started their day at 21/3 in this second innings, with a lead of 132 runs, and Virat Kohli (21) and Rohit were the unbeaten batsmen at the crease. While the almost new ball was still doing something, Dhammika Prasad and Nuwan Pradeep were unable to get purchase similar to the past three morning sessions. At best, they beat the batsmen a couple times, and had another couple of LBW shouts.
Kohli and Rohit were watchful and slowly started playing shots as the 50-mark came up for India in the 19th over. They also brought up their 50-partnership for the 4th wicket off 90 balls. Just before drinks in this extended morning session though, Kohli played at a Pradeep outswinger again, one which he could have left alone, as Upul Tharanga caught the ball at first slip after a minor juggle.
Binny then came out to bat and after a nervy start, he threw his bat around and attacked the bowling, looking more at ease. The Binny-Rohit combination to put up a 50-partnership off just 60 balls as the lead swelled past the 200-mark. Rohit then reached his half-century off 71 balls, and was looking good for more.
But as has happened so often, with just about 15 minutes to the lunch break, he pulled the very next delivery and holed out at fine leg, throwing away all the hard work done in the morning session. Ojha then came to the crease, and avoided any further loss for India going into lunch.
Starting at 132 for five after lunch, India saw Binny and Naman Ojha stitch a 42-run sixth-wicket partnership to spell more trouble for the hosts. After Ojha’s departure, Amit Mishra then managed a 55-run eight-wicket stand with Ashwin to make life easy for the visitors.
India crossed the 150-mark in the 42nd over, but Binny was unlucky to fall one short of a second Test fifty, as he edged Prasad to first slip. Ojha kept on going and was joined by Mishra, who was promoted over Ashwin. The duo added only 19 runs when Ojha was once again out against the run of play.