Sidarth Monga at ESPNcricinfo, 24 November 2017, where the title reads “Ashwin, Jadeja hand India advantage on 11-wicket day”
India 11 for 1 trail Sri Lanka 205 (Chandimal 57, Karunaratne 51, Ashwin 4-67, Ishant 3-37, Jadeja 3-56) by 194 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Treating these Tests almost as tour games for the series in South Africa, India were in no danger of the apparent disrespect to Sri Lanka, biting them on the backside instead. For the sixth straight Test between these two sides, Sri Lanka failed to reach 300, getting bowled out for 205 after winning the toss on a pretty good batting surface. Ishant Sharma, replacing the injured Mohammed Shami, presented his claim to the first XI in South Africa with disciplined bowling and three wickets while R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja reclaimed their turf with seven wickets after both went wicketless in Kolkata.
At the toss, India made it clear that they were thinking as much about South Africa as they were about Sri Lanka. The pitch, as expected, had grass on it in an attempt to prepare the hosts for their next tour. Rohit Sharma replaced a bowler in the XI just because they want him to have some game time before South Africa, where he might well be needed as the sixth batsman.
The biggest gain keeping South Africa in mind, though, might have come in the field. Since he dropped Alastair Cook in Kolkata in 2012-13 – Cook went on to score 190 from 17 when he was let off – Cheteshwar Pujara has only rarely stood at slip for India. That alone will not be the reason for his banishment from the slips, but Pujara has continued to field at slip for Saurashtra. Now fielding at first slip in Shikhar Dhawan’s absence, Pujara pulled off an excellent low catch to his left, almost diving forward, to send back opener Sadeera Samarawickrama to make it 20 for 1 in the fifth over.
This was a significant catch for two reasons. India usually have about a 50% success rate at slips for quick bowlers, and given this was a tough catch, it was an odds-on favourite to go down. And slip catches for quicks will be crucial in a month’s time in South Africa. Given he stays fit enough, Pujara could be an option India need to seriously think about.
In the context of this Test, too, it was an important catch. In attempting to create the hard bouncy surface, Nagpur had rolled out a pretty friendly surface to begin with. There wasn’t disconcerting sideways movement in it, and it began to assist spin only later in the day. Sri Lanka had won the toss, and they had got off to a comfortable start. Samarawickrama, though, played an ill-advised drive on the up to give Ishant an early wicket.
That wicket taken, India turned the screws with tight lines and lengths. Circumspect batsmen played into their hands. Hardly any runs came in the first session, even singles involved risking a run-out, and eventually led to a big risk seven minutes before lunch to give an India spinner a wicket for the first time in this series. R Ashwin was the man who struck in the 25th over when Lahiru Thirimanne played a big sweep after scoring just nine runs off 57 balls in the best batting conditions of the match.
Like buses, one nearly brought two as Ravindra Jadeja had Dimuth Karunanaratne stumped in his first over, but it turned out he had overstepped. That capped off a session sprinkled with good fortune for Karunaratane. He was on 14 when a 26-ball spell of no runs produced a risky single where he just about beat Pujara’s direct hit. Pressure not yet released, Karunaratne looked to go over mid-on a couple of overs later, but this time the overhead chance burst through Pujara’s hands.
Kanrunaratne’s fortune continued post lunch as he survived an extremely tight lbw call through umpire’s call. His former skipper Angelo Mathews wasn’t as fortunate. Having shown some intent against Ashwin, Mathews missed a straight ball from Jadeja because his bat clipped the pad on its downswing and got displaced from the line of the ball. This one too returned an umpire’s call but had been given on the field.
Karunaratne and current captain Dinesh Chandimal then put together the most assured-looking batting spell of the day in a 62-run partnership. Chandimal had to take a couple of risks in the beginning – including a thick-edged six off Ashwin – but he settled in nicely. The tandem act of spinners was broken, and Umesh Yadav brought easier runs. Ashwin now began to bowl a defensive line to Chandimal, on off and middle, which was half a victory.
Just then, though, Karunaratne ran out of luck, and copped what in traditional sense was a rough lbw. From over the wicket, Ishant pitched short of a length and hit him in front. Barring appreciable seam movement, this ball had to either pitch outside leg or miss the stumps if it pitched within. The review, though, showed that the ball pitched within and shaped back in late and just enough to be clipping the off stump. This umpire’s call finally went against Karunaratne.
Chandimal and Niroshan Dickwella then saw Sri Lanka through to tea with a purposeful 29-run stand but they had almost exhausted themselves in trying to maintain parity, that too just about. They might have held off wave after wave of India’s charge in the first two sessions but the dam broke in the hour after tea. The batsmen’s patience ran out and loose shots creeped in.
Dickwella charged down recklessly to Jadeja, was beaten in the flight, and then saw the ball didn’t turn as expected to make it the worst possible outcome for him. Dasun Shanaka played for a big Ashwin offbreak, against the round-the-wicket angle and on the first day, which was recipe for the off stump to be flattened. Dilruwan Perera then fell to a non-turner from Jadeja; it had seemed only a matter of time.
With the last three for company, Chandimal decided it was time for him to dominate the scoring. With India not providing him any free runs, Chandimal went for a big reverse slog, and was trapped lbw by Ashwin. Suranga Lakmal then swung around for a chancy 17 before Ishant came back to nick him off. Ashwin immediately wrapped things up with Rangana Herath’s wicket.
There was some consolation for Sri Lanka in the wicket of KL Rahul, but they were now looking at the reunion of the old firm of M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, who have ground into dust the best of the lot at home.