Mukund, Kohli drive home India’s advantage

106 minutes of the third day’s play were lost to rain, but it hardly dampened India’s grip over Sri Lanka in the opening Test at Galle. Including the spell of rain, India had to endure some frustrating stretches during the day’s play, but that was only because they had enjoyed complete dominance until then.

They ended up bowling Sri Lanka out for 291, claiming a massive 309-run lead, and proceeded to further their lead by 189 runs for the loss of 3 wickets. Dilruwan Perera was the stand out performer of the day, scoring an unbeaten, and attacking 92 to keep India at bay in the first session. But India’s position meant that the runs Perera added merely worked as an irritant, and not match-altering. Later, Virat Kohli and Abhinav Mukund batted the team into an almost unbeatable position with fifties. By the end of day’s play, India’s lead had swelled to 498, and they could look to add some more on the morning of the fourth day before declaring. Mukund went on to notch up his highest Test score but was out off what was the last ball of the day, LBW for 81, while Kohli (76*) shrugged off his low scores since the start of the Australia series with his first fifty since then.

With Sri Lanka starting the day at 154/5, India had a great chance of bowling them out cheaply. They had already gotten into the non-specialist batsmen and, with Asela Gunaratne ruled out of the game with a fractured thumb, needed four more wickets. But for most part of the morning, India’s bowlers were all over the place. Perera looked to be aggressive against the spinners and scored freely. Angelo Mathews looked largely untroubled as well.

The intent to press home the early advantage backfired on Mathews, with the batsman hitting a Ravindra Jadeja delivery straight to Virat Kohli at short cover. It ended a good stand of 62 between Mathews and Perera. Rangana Herath followed soon after, gloving a reverse sweep to slip. Perera took on the bowlers immediately after and was able to plunder runs. He smashed Ashwin for a four and six, before hitting Umesh Yadav, who replaced Ashwin, for two fours. Jadeja was meted out similar treatment soon after as Perera went in at Lunch at 90 not out and Sri Lanka at 289/9.

Eleven balls into the second session, Perera’s dream of a maiden Test hundred was shattered. Jadeja had Lahiru Kumara out bowled to end the Sri Lankan innings at 291, a deficit of 309. With more that half the Test to play, India had the chance to pile on the misery on Sri Lanka, and they, unsurprisingly, decided not to enforce the follow-on.

Shikhar Dhawan hit 14 quick runs before cutting the ball to Dhanushka Gunathilaka, while Cheteshwar Pujara was out caught down the leg side to Kumara for 15. India were 56/2, but in effect 365/2 when rain arrived. The lashing lasted only for a couple of minutes, but it took nearly 90 minutes for the ground to be ready, with short spells and drizzles in between not helping. When play resumed, Virat Kohli and Abhinav Mukund took charge.

Kohli set the tone early with a couple of boundaries, while Mukund was happy to rotate strike and get his eye in. The two batsmen were out of form, and this gave them the perfect opportunity to bat themselves into it.

Kohli fell back on his most-relied currency, quick running, to put the pressure on the opposition. Mukund, too, didn’t have to worry too much about scoring rapidly and was able to find his groove. With wide open spaces, and not really penetrative bowling, the pair raised their individual fifties in quick succession. They also brought up their 100-run stand off 102 deliveries as light dwindled towards the end of the day. Mukund though would be very disappointed on missing out on a hundred, that could have left a more lasting mark, at least in a personal capacity.

When stumps were broken at the end, India’s challenge would have already loomed as daunting as the Galle Fort in the background – impenetrable, but they will go in for more battering Sri Lanka into the ground on the penultimate day. And then they will bowl.

Only a miracle can save Sri Lanka now. Or maybe a lot more rain.

Brief Scores: India 600 and 189/3 (Abhinav Mukund 81, Virat Kohli 76) lead Sri Lanka 291 all out (Dilruwan Perera 92, Angelo Mathews 83, Upul Tharanga 64; Ravindra Jadeja 3/67) by 498 runs

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