PANDYA BLITZ, BOWLERS PUT INDIA IN COMMAND
Pallekele, Sri Lanka - The second day of the third Test began with Sri Lanka in its most promising position of the series. It ended with it a long way down the forest path towards another massive defeat, with hardly a sliver of sunlight to be seen.
Hardik Pandya slipped the blindfold on it, with a brilliantly paced maiden Test hundred (108) that stretched India's first-innings total to 487; Mohammed Shami's new-ball spell (2-17) applied the machete jab to its backbone, and Sri Lanka itself walked the rest of the way, a number of its batsmen throwing away their wickets as it slid to 135 all out in only 37.4 overs.
Having secured a 352-run lead, Virat Kohli enforced the follow-on for the second time in successive Tests. It left enough time for India to bowl a further 13 overs, enough time to take one more wicket, Upul Tharanga chopping Umesh Yadav onto his stumps. At stumps, Sri Lanka was 19 for one, needing a further 333 to make India bat again.
Sri Lanka's first-innings largesse allowed Kuldeep Yadav to settle into a menacing rhythm and pick up his second four-wicket haul (4-40) in only his second Test. He had begun expensively as he found himself in the middle of a counterattacking fifth-wicket stand of 63 between Dinesh Chandimal (48) and Niroshan Dickwella (29). But Dickwella, taking one risk too many, slogged down the wrong line of a wrong'un after jumping out of his crease, precipitating a slide that cost Sri Lanka its last six wickets for 34.
It was Shami who set Sri Lanka's batting horrors in motion. He had both Tharanga (5) and Dimuth Karunaratne (4) nick behind. The pressure played some part in the mix-up
that cost Sri Lanka its third wicket, and two pieces of excellent fielding from R Ashwin at mid-on and Kuldeep at extra-cover sent back Kusal Mendis (18). Four balls later, Sri Lanka was 38 for four, Angelo Mathews lbw to Pandya, pinned on the crease.
In the first two Tests, Pandya had largely been used in a supporting role. On Sunday, he had come on as first change. This may have had something to do with the innings he had played.
It was an innings of two distinct halves. Pandya had just reached his half-century when India lost its ninth wicket, some ten minutes before the scheduled lunch break. The interval was duly pushed back by half an hour, and Pandya went on to dominate a tenth-wicket stand of 66, racing from 50 off 61 balls to 108 off 96, with the No 11 Umesh Yadav scoring three off 14 in that time.
By the time he was the last man out for 108, in the first over after lunch, Pandya had become the second Indian batsman in the series to score a century in a session, after Shikhar Dhawan on the first day of the first Test. He was out third ball after resumption, slicing a Lakshan Sandakan googly to the cover boundary. Sandakan finished with figures of five for 132, his first five-wicket haul, coming in his sixth Test match.
Sri Lanka had begun the second day with the verve and menace as Vishwa Fernando had Wriddhiman Saha caught at gully in its second over to leave India 339 for seven.
Kuldeep put his head down and ground out 26 off 73 balls to help add 62 for the eighth wicket with Pandya.
Sandakan struck twice in three overs, finding Kuldeep's edge, and then taking a sharp return catch when Shami drove him hard and straight.
By this time, Malinda Pushpakumara had bowled four overs in the morning, and his figures read 22-2-56-3. Over the course of his next five balls, Pandya went on to mangle those figures, taking 26 runs off them with the cleanest striking imaginable (4,4, 6, 6, 6), all of it executed with the stillest of heads and the smoothest of bat-swings. Pandya then hit Lahiru Kumara for six, premed- itating by taking guard on off stump and hitting clean and hard to take him into the 90s.
Another six in the next over, over midwicket off Sandakan, took him to 97, and the century came up with a straight drive off Kumara. He had become the fifth Indian to score his maiden first-class hundred in a Test match, after Vijay Manjrekar, Kapil Dev, Ajay Ratra and Harbhajan Singh.