New Delhi: It was one of those final days in Test cricket that make the format such a hit, that prompts one genuinely wonder why there is any talk of the format being on its last legs. Sri Lanka claimed the first session and India the subsequent two, as the first Test of this three-match series ended in a thrilling draw at the Eden Gardens on Monday (November 20). A draw was a fair result on the whole, but for large parts of the final session, Sri Lanka were hanging on for dear life.
A huge reason for that was Virat Kohli. India lost four wickets in the first session of the day, their middle order crumbling like cookies past its expiry date, but Kohli negotiated the tough period, accelerating after lunch to bring up his 50th international century, ending unbeaten on a 119-ball 104. India declared soon after for 352 for 8, setting Sri Lanka a target of 231.
The visitors got off to a shaky start, Bhuvneshwar Kumar once again at the forefront of things, eventually returning a brilliant 4 for 8. But Sri Lanka held on, Niroshan Dickwella scoring a 36-ball 27, to end the day at 75 for 7 after bad light forced stumps to be drawn for the last time.
Sri Lanka were always unlikely to go for victory, but the start India had meant they were playing for survival from early in the innings. With about half an hour to go before the second session ended, Bhuvneshwar and Mohammed Shami ensured Sri Lanka would go into the break needing something stronger than tea. Bhuvneshwar had Sadeera Samarawickrama chopping one onto stumps in the first over, and Shami had Dimuth Karunaratne dismissed in similar fashion two overs later.
The slide continued after resumption. Lahiru Thirimanne was another Sri Lanka batsman to needlessly poke outside off, edging Bhuvneshwar to slips. Angelo Mathews didn’t last long either, Umesh Yadav having him trapped in front, with the umpire’s not-out decision overturned on review. Sri Lanka were reduced to 22 for 4, and seemed shaken up.
It was then that Dickwella imposed himself. Playing in Twenty20 mode, he picked Shami for a couple of sixes. Things between the two soon got dicey, with Shami running in before Dickwella could get ready, prompting the batsman to send him back. When he eventually bowled that delivery, Shami walked right up to Dickwella to tell him exactly what he thought of him. Dickwella was unfazed, continuing to take his own time to get ready, and matters soon escalated enough to prompt the umpires to have a word with both captains and the parties involved.
When Shami then had Dinesh Chandimal bowled through the gates with an excellent inswinger, India’s hopes were renewed. Shami continued bustling in, all passionate and fired up, and when Bhuvneshwar had Dickwella rapped on the pads, Sri Lanka had only four more lives, reduced to 69 for 6.
It was now a race against time for India. Bhuvneshwar, in his very next delivery, had Dilruwan Perera trapped in front, but though the umpire’s finger went up, Sri Lanka had the decision overturned on review. No matter, Bhuvneshwar had his stumps cleaned out in his next over anyway. Back in the dressing room, Chandimal mouthed the words “can’t see the ball”. The umpires’, having checked the metre, decided there was enough time for a few more balls.
Sri Lanka survived them though, and the next check of the metre revealed light had dropped to a level too low. The chatter and the disagreements were forgotten as everyone shook hands.
In the morning, India resumed at 171 for 4, but encountered their slide early. KL Rahul managed to add just seven to his overnight 73 before missing a flick and being bowled by Suranga Lakmal. Pujara and Kohli then looked to ensure wickets remained intact, rotating strike beautifully, but another peach from Lakmal – a short delivery to rear dangerously towards Pujara’s heads – had Pujara waking back. Three balls later, another in-dipper from Lakmal, following successive short-pitched deliveries, trapped Ajinkya Rahane in front for nought.
Kohli then took charge, putting on slow, cautious partnerships with Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin. The 36-run stand with Jadeja came to an end after the offspinner, Perera, induced an edge from the southpaw with extra bounce. Shortly after lunch, Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha fell in fairly quick succession too, and India were reduced to 281 for 7.
It was then that Kohli decided to change gears. With Bhuvneshwar providing company, Kohli farmed the strike and out came those exquisite drives through cover and square. He found the middle of the bat with stunning regularity, as both Lakmal and Dasun Shanaka bore the brunt. Bhuvneshwar was undone by another short delivery from Gamage, but with Kohli in his 80s, the dressing room gave its go-ahead to pursue the century. He made short work of it – there was a stunning inside-out loft over extra cover for maximum, and he reached three figures with another six over extra cover two overs later.
He let out a roar, India declared immediately, and for a while thereafter, it seemed as though hopes of a victory weren’t too unrealistic. Sri Lanka did enough to survive.