Sa’adi Thawfeeq reporting from Galle
GALLE: What an extraordinary Test match it turned out to be. At lunch on the third day no one would have given Sri Lanka a ghost of a chance of winning when they had lost half their side for 108 and trailed India by 84 runs. But Dinesh Chandimal changed all that with a stunning innings of 162 not out that gave Sri Lanka some breathing space as it left India with a target of 176 runs to chase for victory on a wearing pitch.
Starting the fourth day at 23-1 the odds still heavily favoured an Indian victory but what a turnaround it proved to be.
The Lankan spinners who were taken to task by the Pakistanis and by the Indian batsmen in the first innings of this Test were all over the Indian batters led by the indefatigable left-arm spinner Rangana Herath who drilled a hole in their batting by taking seven wickets for 48 runs to condemn them to a 63-run defeat.
The complete reversal of fortunes was another instance of the glorious uncertainties this game of cricket can produce.
The Test was turned on its head in the first session when India lost seven wickets for 78 and there was no coming back for them from that stage.
What was surprising was that none of the Indian batsmen showed any intent to take on the Lankan bowlers especially the spinners and that negative approach allowed Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews to set attacking fielders around the bat.
Had any of the Indian batsmen taken the aerial route and got a few runs on the board Mathews would have been forced to push his fielders back and then India could have worked the singles and twos to get to their target which they would have achieved easily. But rather surprisingly they played into Sri Lanka’s hands with their defensive approach and what a win it turned out to be. It could go down as one of greatest comebacks in Test history.
Herath without a wicket in the first innings had given Sri Lanka the early breakthrough they needed by having Lokesh Rahul lbw towards the end of the third day. He made his intentions clear in no uncertain terms when he dismissed nightwatchman Ishant Sharma with the first ball he bowled for the day.
That wicket opened up the floodgates and anyone watching Herath would have known that he was back on song if they saw the delivery that baffled and bowled Rohit Sharma – a tossed up ball that beat the defensive push of the batsman and went onto hit top of off-stump.
Joining the act was up and coming spinner Tharindu Kaushal who had picked up five wickets in the first innings. He got the two big fishes to hasten Sri Lanka’s victory charge by dismissing captain Virat Kohli for three and holding onto a fine diving return catch to his left to send back a rather sedate Shikhar Dhawan for 28 scored off 83 balls. Strangely Dhawan renowned for his brisk scoring in the short game was rather subdued and hit just one four in the 57 balls he faced today.
Saha, Harbhajan and Ashwin were all consumed by Herath bowling an unchanged spell from the Galle Fort end and he gave an elated reaction when he had the last of the recognized batsman Ajinkya Rahane caught at slip by Mathews for 36.
Kaushal put India out of their misery by having Amit Mishra caught at silly point by Dimuth Karunaratne for 15 leaving last man Varun Aaron unbeaten on one.
Sri Lanka’s catching throughout the day was marvelous with Kaushal Silva, Dhammika Prasad and Karunaratne holding onto some stunners.
India’s total of 112 was their lowest against Sri Lanka in 36 Tests. Their previous lowest was 138 at the SSC in 2008.
The win was a fine send-off for Kumar Sangakkara who made his final Test appearance at Galle. He was carried around the field by his team mates to the applause of the spectators.
Chandimal was named Man of the Match for his astonishing century.
The second Test commences after the general elections on August 20 at the P Sara Oval.
SRI LANKA 1ST INNINGS 183
INDIA 1ST INNINGS 375
SRI LANKA 2ND INNINGS 367
INDIA 2ND INNINGS
L Rahul lbw b Herath 5
S Dhawan c and b Kaushal 28
I Sharma lbw b Herath 10
R Sharma b Herath 4
V Kohli c Silva b Kaushal 3
A Rahane c Mathews b Herath 36
W Saha st Chandimal b Herath 2
H Singh c Silva b Herath 1
R Ashwin c Prasad b Herath 3
A Mishra c Karunaratne b Kaushal 15
V Aaron not out 1
Extras (lb-2, nb-1. W-1) 4
Total (all out, 49.5 overs) 112
Fall of wickets: 1-12 (Rahul), 2-30 (I Sharma), 3-34 (R Sharma), 4-45 (Kohli), 5-60 (Dhawan), 6-65 (Saha), 7-67 (H Singh), 8-81 (Aswhin), 9-102 (Rahane), 10-112 (Mishra).
Bowling: Prasad 4-2-4-0 (nb1), Herath 21-6-48-7, Kaushal 17.5-1-47-3, Pradeep 6-3-8-0, Mathews 1-0-3-0 (w1).