India clinch series with a Test to go

Sri Lanka were once again met with a team that is high on form, performance and domination. Team India secured the series with one more game to go, with an innings defeat over the hosts. India amassed a mammoth first innings total and from there on, Sri Lanka were on the back foot for most of the match. After enforcing the follow-on, the Lankan batsmen showed some fight with incredible knocks by Karunaratne and Mendis, but couldn’t erase the deficit and lost the match by an innings.

The Indian skipper won the toss on a dry pitch and opted to bat first. His batsmen ensured that the Indian team put up a humungous, 622/9 ending the innings with a declaration. The execution of the same began with Shikhar Dhawan and Lokesh Rahul opening the innings on the Day 1, batting-friendly pitch in Colombo. After facing 37 balls and making 35 runs, Dhawan, who scored his fifth century in the first test, lost his wicket to Dilruwan Perera, who trapped him in front, in the 10th over. Lokesh Rahul, on the other hand, carried on to score a half century on his return to Test cricket. He managed to notch up 57 runs, but was run out just when he looked set to convert the knock into triple figures.

Virat Kohli hit a couple of boundaries and seemed to be getting set in the middle. However, a loose shot cost him his wicket, as former Lankan skipper, Angelo Mathews took a smart catch at slip off Herath’s bowling. Cheteshwar Pujara looked very confident and set himself out on a mission to tire the Sri Lankan bowlers, the way he did in the last Test match. He played spin and pace with aplomb and went on to collect yet another century for himself. The Saurashtra batsman, along with Ajinkya Rahane put up a splendid partnership and the flow of runs never stopped while they were together on Day 1. Just before close on Day 1, Ajinkya Rahane got his ninth Test ton, thus strengthening India’s position at stumps.

The centurions came out, fresh on Day 2, but Pujara lost his wicket on the final ball of the second over of the day. After a half-century stand with Ravichandra Ashwin, Rahane fell on 132, trying to step out against Pushpakumara, thus handing him his maiden Test wicket. Wriddhiman Saha paired well with Ashwin, as both batsmen went on to score fifties, adding 54 and 67 runs respectively. Hardik Pandya walked in to bat after Ashwin lost his wicket. He managed to score a run-a-ball 20, but got dismissed in an attempt to keep going big.

Ravindra Jadeja was in a zone of his own. With a lot of runs already in the bag, Jadeja had the freedom to take on the bowlers. He did it with great success, as he notched up 70 runs in just 85 balls. India went on to score 622/9 and the captain called the players in, declaring the innings. Sri Lanka bowler Rangana Herath turned out to be the best bowler for the team, taking four wickets in that innings.

The Lankan Lions got onto the pitch with intentions to get as close to the big total as possible, but had hurdles set by the Indian bowlers and the brilliant fielding by the skipper and his men. In the second over itself without a single run on the board, Sri Lanka lost their first man to a good ball by Ashwin and a catch by Rahul. Ashwin continues with his magic moments after Karunaratne made 25 runs. The southpaw was sent back to the pavilion with a good catch taken by Ajinkya Rahane. Sri Lanka were now two men down, just for 33 runs. The first ball of the 24th over gave Sri Lanka their third shock, when the Sri Lankan skipper Dinesh Chandimal was forced to walk back to the dressing room after Hardik Pandya completed a good catch.

Umesh Yadav got among the wickets too, dismissing Kushal Mendis and keeping Sri Lanka to 64/4 in the early stage of their innings. Angelo Matthews tried to score a few runs and made 26. However, he was outdone by Ashwin soon after. Dhananjay de Silva was sent back on the first ball he faced, off Jadeja. The Sri Lankan wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella smashed 51 off 48 balls to breathe some relief into Sri Lanka’s innings, but Mohammed Shami bowled him to end the fightback. Herath too couldn’t stand the Shami’s pace and was sent just after scoring 2 runs. Dilruwan Perera tried his best and made 25 runs but Ashwin’s wrath got him bowled. Not too long after, Sri Lanka were bowled out for 183 and Ashwin finished with a 5-wicket haul, after having a rather under-par run in the first Test of the series.

Sri Lanka were asked to follow-on with India’s lead still standing tall at 439 runs. With just seven runs on the board, Upul Tharanga was bowled by Yadav in the third over after scoring just two runs. After the first wicket, the Lankans followed a different plan and strategy and the Indian bowlers had to deal with a lot of improvisation and aggressive intent. Karunaratne and Mendis kept the Lankan dream alive in the game with both men scoring centuries and stitching a rigid partnership for the Sri Lankan side. Shots such as reverse sweeps and advances down the pitch were quite common in this handsome partnership, as both batsmen looked at ease on a deteriorating pitch. Against all odds, the two batsmen hit fighting centuries and gave a ray of hope to the Lankan team and their fans.

It took Hardik Pandya to eventually break the stand, as Mendis edged him to keeper, Saha on a well-compiled 110. Ashwin was among the wickets once again, as he bowled debutant, Pushpakumara, sending him back for 16. Sri Lanka suffered another blow in the form of their skipper, when he was scalped up by Jadeja to a catch by Rahane. Karunaratne was 9 runs away from a well-deserved 150, the Jadeja-Rahane combination got the better of him. Sri Lanka lost half their side with that wicket, with 310 on the board.

The Indian fielding was top class, especially around the bat. Former skipper, Mathews got a start, but failed to convert it once again. The lower order was then exposed to some quality bowling and a pitch that was spitting venom. Dickwella tried to rally around the tail, but wickets fell at regular intervals. Jadeja ran through most of the Lankan line-up and Ashwin got the final wicket to end the Lankan innings on 386. They couldn’t erase the deficit and Indian ended up winning the match by an innings and 53 runs.

With this victory, Team India won their eighth series in a row, standing a series win behind the all-time record held by the Australians. The series has one more match to go and the Lankans may be down on confidence after the two back-to-back defeats. India seemed like the better team from Day 1. The only time Kohli had to put his thinking cap on was perhaps during the Karunaratne-Mendis partnership. Ashwin got back to his lethal best, while Jadeja made merry on a helpful wicket. Sri Lanka will have to play better to avoid the clean sweep. The third Test begins on 12th August at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium.



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