For the second time in two Tests, India finds itself on the threshold of completing a job it had set out to do. The latest in particular has been proficiently and meticulously done, inch by inch. The manner of ending on Monday will reveal much — of changed mindsets and renewed belief. India, riding on Ajinkya Rahane’s fourth Test century — fourth overseas, New Zealand, England and Australia being the other places — had earlier declared on 325 for eight and set a mammoth 413-run target. At the end of the penultimate day’s play, Sri Lanka was 72 for two with Dimuth Karunaratne batting on 25 and Angelo Mathews on 23. It now has the Herculean task of upstaging the record for the highest chase ever at the P Sara Oval — the previous best being 352 by the hosts way back in 2006 against South Africa — with its mightiest warrior, Kumar Sangakkara, a mere spectator. “Parting is such a sweet sorrow,” Shakespeare wrote, and on Sunday, Sangakkara, with his Lankan teammates in tow, would have certainly wanted to make it one in his last Test innings. Instead, R. Ashwin had his measure for the fourth time in four innings, making him edge to slip for third time in this series. He batted a minute short of half-an-hour, faced 18 balls and scored 18 runs including three crisp boundaries. “Thank you for all the love. Been my privilege to play for my country and in front of all the fans,” he tweeted later. A man of few words — all of them intelligent — walked into the sunset, literally, to a few claps and a few hashtags. Perfect start India’s approach at the start — M. Vijay’s to be more precise — was just about perfect to set up the declaration. In the first one hour, 68 runs were scored without a maiden being bowled. Both he and Rahane had close shaves — the former when an edge flew past Sangakkara in the cordon and the latter when an uppish drive sailed just out of Jehan Mubarak’s reach at short cover. But neither let that bog India down. When Vijay first tried to chug along, after having gone past 50 from his overnight score of 39, the bat rolled in his hands; almost creaking under strain as he attempted to heave one over mid-wicket and then slash past mid-off after moving away from the line. But he soon found the solid contact he was all along craving for, pulling Dushmantha Chameera over mid-wicket for six and then sending Tharindu Kaushal sailing beyond the fence. Rahane, on his part, had six hits to the boundary, including a perfectly-executed reverse sweep, to get to his fifty. Vijay would go on to make 82 (133b, 4×4, 2×6) before falling leg before trying to sweep Kaushal. Half-an-hour later Virat Kohli (10) was consumed too, again by Kaushal, this time pinned to the crease on the back foot. Yet, by lunch, India had reached 179 for three, a lead of 266 and with that gradually negating the probability of a Sri Lankan win. In the 11th over after lunch, brushing off some mild discomfiture caused by Chameera, the studious Rahane reached his century. It seemed apt that Rohit Sharma, the man who swapped positions with him in the batting order, was standing at the other end for the celebratory hug. Two inside-out boundaries from him after the hundred kicked off a seven-over period when India scored at more than six an over. But two wickets in three overs — Rohit and Rahane — put the brakes. Rohit was caught at deep mid-wicket trying to hit out against Kaushal. Rahane was caught behind trying to essay yet another inside-out. All this was contained within a marathon 23-over spell by Kaushal. Meanwhile Saha, after hurting his right hamstring, retired hurt. Ashwin pulled and top-edged his way to 19 runs. Saha, surprisingly, made his way back after Amit Mishra fell, in spite of clearly being unable to run. Later he handed over the wicket-keeping duties to K.L. Rahul. The last four batsmen added 46 runs, surplus one would think, but for Kohli, it was about security. India needs eight wickets in 90 overs and Sri Lanka 341 runs.
2015 Kashmir Despatch