Sri Lanka 204 and 46 for 2 (Nissanka 21*) trail West Indies 253 (Brathwaite 72, Blackwood 44, Mendis 6-70) by 3 runs
On the first full, rain-absent, day’s play of the Test, Sri Lanka and West Indies set up what promises to be the quintessential Galle classic. At stumps, the hosts in their second innings trail by three runs with eight wickets in hand, on a pitch that has produced 21 wickets over the past two days – though the last two will have the Dimuth Karunaratne’s side kicking themselves, both being entirely avoidable run outs.
The first came as a result of an outstanding direct hit from Kyle Mayers to dismiss the captain himself, while the second was rather more self-inflicted, with Oshada Fernando hesitating in the middle of the pitch and failing to return to his crease in time.
That has left Pathum Nissanka and Charith Asalanka at the crease, on 21 and 4 respectively, with the former also nursing a knee injury that he had received treatment for on the field.
Mendis, Embuldeniya and Jayawickrama all found better lengths after lunch and in the process dried up the scoring. They were also perhaps aided by the extra bounce afforded by the new ball, with five of the six wickets to fall in the session coming after they opted for it – the last two wickets fell swiftly after tea.
That said, the most important breakthrough came at the start of second session, when Embuldeniya worked over a set Brathwaite in brilliant fashion. Having shifted to over the wicket against the right-hander, Embuldeniya peppered a leg-stump line – replete with leg slip and short leg – for the first couple of deliveries, before getting one to spin sharply past Brathwaite’s, oddly lax, forward defence. The ball proceeded to hit the top of middle stump, a dream dismissal for the left-arm spinner but one which Brathwaite could have avoided by simply padding away.
That brought to an end an 85-ball 25-run stand between Brathwaite and Shai Hope, the last one of any significance. Mendis took charge of proceedings from thereon, getting rid of Roston Chase, Hope, Jason Holder and Joshua Da Silva in the span of a few overs, before returning after tea to close out the innings with the wicket of Jomel Warrican.
This turn of events had seemed far from likely in the morning. Indeed, such was the level of West Indies’ control that, aside from the wicket of Bonner, the only real moment of peril occurred courtesy Suranga Lakmal, Sri Lanka’s lone seamer, who got a fuller one to jag back into Bonner’s pads, only for a subsequent review to show a faint inside edge. There was also a potential catch down the leg side, also off Lakmal, that Chandimal seemed to have grassed, only for replays to show that there was no bat or glove involved.
Those instances typified a luckless morning for the home side with Brathwaite and Bonner resolute. The Sri Lankan spinners did themselves little favours in any case, unable to extract the same turn and bounce West Indians were able to do so consistently the previous day.
Much of this was down to an inability to find the right lengths, with Jayawickrama and Embuldeniya particularly culpable, far too often straying full and making it easy to smother any turn on offer. On the few occasions that they did hit a good length, both Brathwaite and Bonner were able to get bat in the way and deal with it safely. And it wasn’t long before the home side’s frustration began to show, as they began to offer more scoring opportunities, ones the West Indians were ruthless in dispatching.
Brathwaite, who was quite comfortable staying back and navigating the spin late in most circumstances, was the biggest beneficiary on this front – he would end his innings with nine boundaries, and was all too happy to put away anything short, square of the wicket on either side. The pick of his shots, though, were two front-foot efforts either side of mid-on – for the first, he showed exquisite wrist work to take one that was a little fuller and steer it to the left of a straight-ish mid-on, while the second was a delightful clip to the midwicket fence.
It was only following Bonner’s dismissal that Sri Lanka’s spinners rediscovered some sort of rhythm, which in the end they managed to carry over in spades for the rest of the innings.