When Sri Lanka began its quest to save the third Test against India on the final day, it would have looked to Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal, the senior pair who scored centuries in the first innings.
Instead, it was the young pack of Dhananjaya de Silva, Roshen Silva (74) and Niroshan Dickwella (44) who battled the odds to ensure the Test at the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi ended in a draw on Wednesday (December 6). The result meant India took the series 1-0, but its inability to dent Sri Lanka on a benign surface will hurt it.
De Silva battled cramps, testing conditions and tight bowling to score a brilliant 219-ball 119 – the first fourth-innings ton overseas by a Sri Lankan in ten years. He then retired hurt, unable to bear the pain towards the end of the second session, but Silva and Dickwella, who both scored ducks in the first innings, carried on the good work to guide Sri Lanka to safety.
In all, Sri Lanka batted out 87 overs on the final day and lost just two wickets. Interestingly, it did so without getting bogged down, ending at 299 for 5 when the teams shook hands. Had it scored one more run, it would have been the first visiting team to score 300 in the fourth innings in India.
There weren’t too many demons on the pitch but a fifth-day challenge against India’s spinners is never an easy task. Sri Lanka met that challenge in partnerships; de Silva and Chandimal batted 33 overs, de Silva and Silva saw out 21 overs before the former walked off, and then Silva and Dickwella lasted 27 overs unbroken.
It was a tremendous effort, considering it was reduced to 35 for 4 early in the day. Mathews, the overnight batsman, had been extremely lucky to be dropped thrice in the first innings, but luck evaded him this time. Jadeja induced an edge, and Ajinkya Rahane pounced on a sharp catch at slip to send Mathews back for just one.
With Jadeja in the midst of a tight spell, Sri Lanka could have easily made the mistake of going into a shell, but de Silva ensured that wouldn’t happen.
When Ishant Sharma tried bouncing him out, de Silva responded by pulling the pacer for two boundaries. He also used nimble footwork and cheeky paddles, amid numerous dead-batted defensive strokes, to counter the spinners.
It helped that de Silva had his captain and another first-innings centurion in Chandimal at the other end for guidance. The duo kept the scoreboard ticking with quick singles, also stealing overthrows at the slightest opportunity.
The only bit of drama came late in the first session when Chandimal was bowled off a no-ball on 24. Jadeja produced a stunning delivery that went past the outside edge to hit off-stump, but had overstepped along the way.
India didn’t have to wait much longer for success, though, as Ashwin provided the breakthrough soon after lunch, deceiving Chandimal with drift and sharp turn to hit the off-stump.
The 112-run stand broken with nearly two full sessions left and no senior batsmen remaining, Sri Lanka was in danger of being rolled over. De Silva rose to the occasion yet again. This time, he did it as the senior partner, guiding a nervous Silva, the debutant, through a difficult phase.
De Silva began the second session with a flurry of boundaries that took him to his 90s, before slowing down due to cramps. He was visibly in pain and had the physio tending to him plenty of times, but battled on.
The well-deserved century was reached with a beautiful back-foot punch off Mohammed Shami, earning him rich applause even from the Indian camp.
The job was only half-done, especially since his pain only grew with every ball he batted. The agony made de Silva play a few shots, which also resulted in Ashwin dropping a tough return chance.
At one stage, de Silva couldn’t even move his feet to defend. He still didn’t throw it away, but with some 20 minutes to go for tea, had no option but to hobble off the field.
Silva, who had shed his initial nerves by then, took over. Taking a cue from de Silva, Silva remained positive against spin and went past his half-century, driving Jadeja for a couple of boundaries.
At the other end, Dickwella played his natural attacking game, sweeping at every possible opportunity. It gave India a chance, but Wriddhiman Saha missed a regulation stumping chance with Dickwella on 32. Jadeja was the unlucky bowler.
From there on, the only question was whether Silva and Dickwella would go for their individual milestones. Neither was too keen to do that, and took the opportunity to end the game as soon as it came their way.