Colombo: India gained an upperhand in the second cricket Test against Sri Lanka by taking a handy 87-run first innings lead despite a fighting century by rival skipper Angelo Mathews, here on Saturday.
Resuming at the overnight score of 140 for three, the hosts were cruising along comfortably with Mathews (102) and Lahiru Thirimanne (62) adding 127 runs for the fourth wicket before losing seven wickets for a mere 65 runs on an engrossing third day's play.
The hosts were bowled out for 306 shortly after the tea break with leg-spinner Amit Mishra being the pick of the bowlers with figures of 4/43 in 21 overs.
Mishra was well complemented by Ishnat Sharma (2/68) and Ravichandran Ashwin (2/76) as they turned the tide just when it looked like Sri Lanka were on course of a decent first innings total.
India lost first innings centurion KL Rahul (2) in the very first over being bowled by Dhamika Prasad but Murali Vijay (39 batting) and Ajinkya Rahane (28 batting) ensured that there were no further setbacks by taking the score to 70 for one and extending the overall lead to 157 runs.
The highlight of the third day's play was Mathews' fifth Test hundred as he gave ample display of his batting class and showed that he is ready to take over the mantle of their top batsman from the retiring legend Kumar Sangakkara. His innings had 12 boundaries in all.
With two full days left, India will push for a series levelling win by setting a big target for the hosts on a tricky fifth day P Sara Oval track.
The track which has already shown signs of wear and tear with the spinners getting enough turn to make batting difficult on the final two days.
The first session belonged to Sri Lanka as they went into lunch at 224 for three with Mathews batting on 72 and Thirimanne was undefeated on 57.
But it was Ishant Sharma, who turned the complexion of the game with his post lunch spell. First he got rid of Thirimanne, caught behind off a fuller delivery. A rain break followed which must have impacted their concentration as first Test hero Dinesh Chandimal (11) fell cheaply offering a catch off Ishhant's delivery to Rahul at first slip.
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After Rahul's cheap dismissal, Vijay and Rahane came together then and batted together for 28.3 overs, thus avoiding any further loss.
Rangana Herath (0-23) was given the new ball to see if he could extract more turn from the pitch and repeat his Galle performance. But the two batsmen didn't give any chances.
There were a couple close LBW shouts against both Vijay and Rahane, but they endured and kept the scoreboard ticking.
Dushmantha Chameera (0-14), Tharindu Kaushal (0-20) and Angelo Mathews (0-1) were the other bowlers, but they too were negotiated easily. India's 50-mark came up in the 19th over and shortly afterwards the duo also brought up their 50-run stand off 112 balls.
Earlier, Lanka were placed at 298/7 at tea, thanks to skipper Angelo Mathews' Test hundred. But India wrapped up their innings within five overs after the tea break.
Jehan Mubarak (22) was bowled by Mishra in the first over itself, and then Ashwin trapped Rangana Herath (1) LBW three overs later. Tharindu Kaushal (6) was last man out in the 108th over, stumped off Mishra again. Dushmantha Chameera was the unbeaten batsman.
Before tea, there were a couple rain breaks. The first one immediately after play had resumed post-lunch. But it wasn't a long one as compared to the showers couple overs later. That cost a loss of 33 minutes and play was extended for the session, and later for the day.
The Indian bowling made good use of this opportunity as they continued to chip away at the Lankan batting. Ishant Sharma (2-68) was the pick of the bowlers with sharp lines and he was well supported by Ashwin and Mishra in this session.
While the off-spinner didn't pick any wickets, he used the second new ball and kept a check on the batsmen. Mishra then returned later on to trouble the lower-order batsmen.
After lunch, Mathews and Lahiru Thirimanne looked to continue their partnership. But Ishant was bowling well since morning and continued in the same vein after lunch as well. He had a good contest with the left-hander and then finally dismissed him in the 86th over.
The batsman went for a drive on a full delivery and had the faintest of edges to the keeper, although he expressed disappointment at being given out.
Ishant then welcomed Dinesh Chandimal (11) with a short ball that hit him on the helmet. The centurion from the first innings looked very uncomfortable as he faced him, and eventually Ishant got his man in the 91st over, caught at second slip by KL Rahul who held on the second attempt after a fumble.
Mathews kept going at the other end and his perseverance paid off. He notched up his 6th Test hundred in the 98th over off 164 balls. Virat Kohli had to go for some treatment in that over and Ajinka Rahane was put incharge for that short span of time.
Mathews couldn't go on to get a big one as he edged Stuart Binny (1-44) to first slip and was caught by Murali Vijay in the 99th over to give the all-rounder his first Test wicket. Mishra then had Dhammika Prasad (5) caught at slip to round up India's performance in this session with 4 wickets for 74 runs.
In the morning, Lanka negotiated the first session without any loss as Mathews and Thirimanne batted without any problems and added 84 runs in the 28 overs bowled.
Starting at the overnight score of 140/3, India's main hope was in inducing mistakes from the batsmen before they got set. And it almost worked as Ishant got Thirimanne to edge one on the fifth ball of the morning. But the ball fell just short of first slip and out of reach for a diving Wriddhiman Saha.
It could be rated as a half-chance, and that was the only one on offer for the rest of session as the two batsmen played grinding knocks.
Skipper Virat Kohli changed around his bowlers regularly, and to their credit they bowled with control and the run-rate never crossed three-per-over. The pacers beat the batsmen on ample occasions but that one good chance was missing.
Similarly the spinners got little purchase from the pitch but whatever chances they induced never reached the close-in fielders as the batsmen played with soft hands.