India 357 for 6 (Pant 96, Vihari 58, Embuldeniya 2-107) vs Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s limited attack stood exposed on a day-one Mohali pitch, which offered turn from full lengths and promised more in the coming days. Their lack of resources were apparent at the toss when they announced they were playing three fast bowlers on a track that the hosts picked three spinners.
In a way, Sri Lanka were lucky they got the first five wickets with just 41 mistakes induced in the first 61.1 overs of the day. Rohit Sharma looked ominous, charging to 29 off 28, but found long leg with a third attempted pull to the boundary in the same Kumara over. He clearly fancies himself against the short ball, but since April 2018 he has been out to the pull or the hook seven times at an average of 27.4.
Embuldeniya then managed to get past the inside edge of Mayank Agarwal, another heavy scorer in Indian conditions when he gets in. And he had got in with 33 off 49. What Embuldeniya did presented a sense of threat on a pitch that had a clear, differently-watered dry area on a spinners’ full length. He got some drift, pitched right at the start of that full area, and the ball would either turn or go straight on because of the rougher surface.
In the same over, Emduldeniya drew a leading edge from Kohli too. This, though, would be the last time in a while that Sri Lanka would see a mistake from the batters. Vihari, replacing Cheteshwar Pujara at No. 3, had already got himself set. Vihari and Kohli added 90 from 25.5 overs for the third wicket without having to strain themselves. They did nothing more than keep the good balls out and score off the bad ones. That they could score at 3.6 an over tells you the proportion of good balls was low.
In the middle of the second session, though, Embuldeniya did Kohli in with his trajectory. It was a flatter delivery, which made Kohli go back, but it still pitched full, about a foot inside the dry patch. It now had the time to turn past Kohli’s bat but not past the off stump. A remarkable crowd that turned up on two days’ notice was left as stunned as Kohli walked off, along with unfulfilled hopes of a 28th Test hundred.
Vihari effortlessly made his way to 50 in 93 balls, but in the one period of credit to Sri Lanka’s bowling as a unit, they pushed him into a spell where he could score just eight off the next 35 balls. So for the first time they forced batters to take risks to score. On the first occasion, a catch was dropped off what turned out to be a no-ball. On the second, Vishwa Fernando managed to get a chop-on, making it 175 for 4.
Pant came out to bat ahead of Shreyas Iyer, Ajinkya Rahane’s replacement. Iyer, too, managed a start but fell to Dhananjaya de Silva’s part-time offspin. Now check Pant’s presence: a team that had just taken two wickets for five runs had three men on the leg-side fence. If you can scare oppositions into having defensive fields as soon as you walk in, there are quite a few easy runs to be taken. That’s what Pant did in the early parts of his innings, never mind the one huge six and one lofted cover drive off Suranga Lakmal early on. They were happy to give him singles, he was happy to pick up singles.
Pant was on an even 50 with five overs to go to the second new ball when he launched an all-out assault on the spinners. Embuldeniya was the first to cop it: six over midwicket, six over wide long-on, punch through the covers, late cut, and he had taken 22 off the 76th over. de Silva is supposed to turn it away but it didn’t matter as he took 10 off three balls in the 77th over.
Within 10 minutes, Sri Lanka had gone from “hang on, what if we get a couple of quick wickets” to looking completely listless. The idea seemed for Pant to get to his hundred before the new ball, but he didn’t get enough strike to be able to do so. When the new ball did arrive, though, Lakmal kissed the top of his off stump from over the wicket.
Pant went down on his haunches, and took an age to get back. He is now behind only Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar as Indians with dismissals in his 90s, and this one would have hurt the most because he got out trying to defend. There is always solace if he gets out in the 90s trying to hit a six for that is the facet of his game he backs more.
Immediately at the other end, Ravindra Jadeja consoled him and applauded him: it was the 96 that he scored that mattered more than the four he didn’t.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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