Kusal Mendis and Dimuth Karunaratne stole Ravichandran Ashwin's thunder on Saturday as Day 3 of the second Test between India and Sri Lanka witnessed the hosts put up a terrific fight to keep themselves afloat in the ongoing series.
Resuming from their overnight score of 50/2, the Indians ran through Sri Lanka's batting order to bundle them out before lunch, with the hosts losing eight wickets in the first session. Leading off-spinner Ashwin finished with figures of 5/69 in the innings — his 26th five-wicket haul in Tests, only behind Anil Kumble's 35 — as skipper Virat Kohli decided to enforce follow on. With Upul Tharanga getting dismissed cheaply in the second innings, the Indians would have imagined wrapping the match up, as well as sealing the series, on Day 3 itself.
However, Mendis and Karunaratne mixed caution with aggression to great effect post Tharanga's dismissal, and put up a resolute partnership that has helped bring the Sri Lankans back on their feet. The duo did not hesitate in milking the Indian bowlers, especially spinners Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, for runs as they went on to add 191 for the second wicket, with Mendis bringing up his third Test century, using the sweep shot to great effect before finally getting dismissed by Hardik Pandya shortly before the close of play. The sight of a harrowed Kohli has been a rare one in the series so far, and that was his defining mood on the day.
As inspirational as the Sri Lankan fightback might be, the game is still in India's grasp at the moment. The prospect of an early wicket on Day 4 triggering yet another collapse will be in the back of Kohli's mind when he takes to the field along with his team mates on the fourth day. With the lead worth a solid 230 at the moment, a couple of early wickets followed by sustained pressure is all that the Indians need to bring the odds strongly back in their favour again.