There was no fairytale finish to Kumar Sangakkara’s Test career as R Ashwin dismissed him for the fourth time in four innings, on his way to picking up two wickets that gave India a big push towards a series-leveling victory at the P Sara Oval. Set 413 to win in three-and-a-half sessions, after a declaration march led by an Ajinkya Rahane century, Sri Lanka were 72 for 2 at stumps on day four.
Sangakkara struck two trademark boundaries off Ishant Sharma – a whip off his hips and a checked drive down the ground – but didn’t have too much of an answer to another of those perfectly-pitched Ashwin offbreaks. It dropped onto a perfect length, on an off-stump line. Right through the series, Sangakkara has been unsure of whether to go forward or back to this ball. He went forward this time, didn’t get close enough to the pitch of the ball, and it turned, kissed his outside edge, and nestled in second slip’s hands.
Ashwin’s first wicket had less to do with his skill as an offspinner – Kaushal Silva popped a full-toss to short midwicket – but his bowling constantly asked questions of Sri Lanka’s top order. Dimuth Karunaratne, in particular, struggled. He misread his flight on multiple occasions, and found himself playing a long way in front of his body when the ball dipped on him, sending a leading edge popping dangerously towards mid-off on one occasion. He also had an lbw appeal turned down – with the ball looking likely to miss leg stump – when he went back to try and cut an arm ball that skidded through and cramped him.
He hung in, though, and found his groove, to the extent of striking three fours off him in the 19th over of Sri Lanka’s innings – two drives down the ground, having used his feet to get to the ball, either side of a powerful square sweep. With Angelo Mathews moving to a typically unobtrusive 23 at the other end, Sri Lanka ended the day with a small measure of hope.
But their hopes of chasing a less-than-daunting target had disappeared much earlier, over the course of two important partnerships involving Rahane. First, he briskly extended his second-wicket partnership with M Vijay to 140, the 73 runs they scored in the morning coming off 93 balls. Then, after Tharindu Kaushal had removed Vijay and Virat Kohli in the space of 48 balls, he added 85 with Rohit Sharma for the fourth wicket.
Vijay and Rahane had batted with a degree of understandable caution on the third evening, making sure India didn’t fritter away the initiative of an 87-run first-innings lead. Having swelled the cushion to 157 for the loss of only one wicket, there was a perceptible change of gear.
India’s batsmen had defended or left 86 – or close to 49% – of the 176 balls they had faced on the third evening. On the fourth morning, the figure was 45 off 160 – just over 28%. The in-out fields allowed for a steady flow of singles, but they didn’t really help Sri Lanka stem the boundaries.
Rahane went deep in his crease in the third over of the morning to shorten the length of a Rangana Herath delivery and whip him square of midwicket for four, and stepped down the track six overs later to lift him over extra cover. Not long after, Vijay picked up two sixes in two overs, with a pull off Dushmantha Chameera and a lofted hit over midwicket off Kaushal.
As the morning wore on, Vijay began limping through his singles – possibly due to a return of the hamstring troubles that had kept him out of the first Test. It was later learnt that both Vijay and Wriddhiman Saha, who had retired hurt with a hamstring strain in the second session, were ruled out of the remainder of the series.
Having reached 82, Vijay shaped to sweep Kaushal from the stumps and missed. The amount of turn Kaushal generates minimises the likelihood of lbw, even from round the wicket, but on this occasion he spun his offbreak just enough to beat the bat and stay on course to hit leg stump. He managed another lbw eight overs later, trapping Kohli as he went deep in his crease to work him across the line.
The wickets prompted India to retreat into their shells a little, understandably enough. While India’s morning run rate was close to five an over before Vijay’s wicket, it dropped to just over three an over thereafter, till lunch. Then, without too much apparent effort, Rahane and Rohit scored more than four runs an over after lunch.
There were plenty of singles available down the ground, and to that Rahane added the occasional touch of craftiness, taking successive doubles off Herath with a drive wide of short extra cover followed by another chipped over his head. The runs flowed freer once Rahane had reached his hundred, with the batsmen hitting four fours in four overs from Herath and Tharindu Kaushal before Rohit was out trying to slog-sweep a doosra from outside off stump.
Kaushal took the wicket of Rahane in his next over as the batsman nicked a drive, misjudging the extent of turn from round the wicket. By then, India’s lead was 349.
They declared an hour into the final session, having lost three wickets in nine post-tea overs for the addition of 42 runs. Saha came back out at the fall of India’s seventh wicket, and was at the crease when Kohli signaled the declaration, but it was KL Rahul who kept wicket at the start of Sri Lanka’s chase.
India 1st innings 393
Sri Lanka 1st innings 306
India 2nd innings 325
Sri Lanka 2nd innings
JK Silva c Binny b Ashwin 1
FDM Karunaratne not out 25
KC Sangakkara c Vijay b Ashwin 18
AD Mathews* not out 23
Extras (lb 4, nb 1) 5
Total (2 wickets; 21 overs) 72
To batHDRL Thirimanne, J Mubarak, LD Chandimal†, KTGD Prasad, HMRKB Herath, PHT Kaushal, PVD Chameera
Fall of wickets 1-8 (Silva, 2.4 ov), 2-33 (Sangakkara, 8.5 ov)
R Ashwin 10-5-27-2, UT Yadav 2-0-10-0, I Sharma 4-0-18-0, A Mishra 5-1-13-0
Toss – India, who chose to bat
Player of the match – tba
Umpires – BNJ Oxenford (Australia) and RJ Tucker (Australia)
TV umpire – RSA Palliyaguruge
Match referee – AJ Pycroft (Zimbabwe)
Reserve umpire – REJ Martinesz