Galle: India were set a tricky target of 176 runs to win the first cricket Test against Sri Lanka after Dinesh Chandimal produced a counter-attacking unbeaten 162 to lead a spirited fightback for the hosts, here on Friday.
Tottering at a precarious 95 for five at one stage after conceding a 192-run first innings lead, Chandimal staged a remarkable recovery as he notched up a career-best knock to help Sri Lanka score 367 in the second innings.
Chandimal's effort not only helped the Lankans avoid an innings defeat but gave them enough lead to throw open the match on a track, providing some turn for the slow bowlers.
India were 23 for one at stumps on third day, requiring another 153 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series. The visitors lost opener Lokesh Rahul (5), who was trapped LBW by Rangana Herath. Shikhar Dhawan (13) and Ishant Sharma (5) were at the crease at the end of day's play.
The 25-year-old wicket-keeper batsman found able allies in Lahiru Thirimanne (44) and Jehan Mubarak (49) as they put on valuable partnerships to frustrate the Indians.
The Indians had themselves to blame to allow the hosts wriggle out of a tight position while some dubious umpiring decisions also went against them today.
It was a commendable fightback From the Sri Lankans, who counter-attacked the Indian spinners and completely destroyed their rhythm.
At lunch time, it looked that India will run away with an easy victory with Sri Lanka reeling at 108 for five but Chandimal changed the complexion of the game as he clobbered the bowlers to record his fourth Test century.
Chandimal hit 23 boundaries, including four sixes, in his fighting knock and raised a 125-run stand for the Thirimanne for the sixth wicket. With Mubarak he was involved in a 82-run partnership for the seventh wicket.
Off-spinner R Ashwin, who took 6/46 in the first innings, was the pick of the Indian bowlers with 4/114, completing his third 10-wicket haul in a Test. Leg-spinner Amit Mishra took 3/61 while Ishant Sharma, Varun Aaron and Harbhajan Singh accounted for one batsman each.
The day began well for the Indians as they managed to get rid of the overnight batsman, Dhammika Prasad (3) in the very first ball off paceman Varun Aaron.
Retiring great Kumar Sangakkara (40) and captain Angelo Matthews (39) briefly provided some resistance before they were dismissed at the stroke of lunch.
The script took a completely different turn after lunch as Chandimal led a spirited Lankan recovery with some audacious stroke-play.
The day also saw Ajinkya Rahane set a new fielding world record by taking eight catches in a Test match, eclipsing the record of five others.
Chandimal started after tea on 98*, with the Lankan score reading 263/6, and didn't waste much in getting to his fourth Test hundred in the first over after the break. He got there off exactly 100 balls, inclusive of 11 fours and two sixes, in the 59th over of the innings.
He was given company at the other end by Jehan Mubarak and the two continued in their attacking manner after the break, particularly Chandimal, as Mubarak was happy to play second fiddle whilst inching towards his half-century. But it was not to be, as he fell one run short of his maiden half century.
Bowling a sharper spell than he did previously in the match, Harbhajan Singh (1-73) took his first wicket of the game in the 69th over, as Mubarak edged to Ajinkya Rahane at first slip, his seventh catch of the Test.
He created a world record for the most catches in the outfield by a fielder in a Test – eight – when he snapped up Rangana Herath (1) off Amit Mishra four overs later.
Thereafter Chandimal took center-stage as he protected the number ten batsman Tharindu Kaushal (7) ably. They batted together for 8.2 overs, putting on 41 crucial runs, during which Chandimal really took the attack to the cleaners whilst farming the strike well.
He scored 32 off those runs, coming at run-a-ball again, as the Lankan lead swelled past 150 runs. Chandimal himself crossed the 150-mark off 161 balls, going past his previous best of 116* against Bangladesh at the same ground in 2013.
India took the new ball and that did the trick, with Ishant Sharma getting rid of Kaushal in the 82nd over. And then Ashwin returned to bowl last batsman Nuwan Pradeep (3) in the very next over, leaving Chandimal stranded and India a tricky total to chase.
It was the first time an Indian spinner had taken ten wickets in a match outside India since 2008, when Harbhajan Singh did so at the same ground.
Earlier, a 125-run partnership for the 6th wicket between Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne saved Sri Lanka in the post- lunch session. The two batsmen had ridden their luck before the lunch-break, but made sure not to make the same mistakes again.
They came out attacking against the Indian bowlers and didn't spare either the spinners or the pacers, treating them with disdain.