New Delhi: Sri Lanka's unheralded youngsters, led by Dhananjaya De Silva, cashed in on the ineffectiveness of Indian spinners, holding on for a draw in the third Test even as the home team collected its ninth successive series victory.
While the win in Nagpur ensured a 1-0 series win for India, it will certainly be a moral victory for a beleaguered Sri Lankan team, which also had to endure physical discomfort due to pollution in the national capital.
Sri Lanka were never going to chase 410, but did well enough to bat as many as 102 overs in the second innings, finishing at 299 for five. The captains decided to shake hands after the end of seven mandatory overs.
En route his third Test hundred, De Silva battled severe muscle stiffness before retiring hurt on 119, but he instilled the self belief in debutant Roshen Silva (74 not out) and the maverick Niroshan Dickwella (44 not out), who displayed enormous determination while playing out the final session of the match.
The Roshen-Dickwella pair added invaluable 94 runs for the unbroken sixth-wicket stand as India did not get a single wicket in the final session.
Wriddhiman Saha bungled an easy stumping chance of Dickwella off Ravindra Jadeja (3/81 in 38 overs) in the final session and that, effectively, was the end of India's hopes to win the Test match.
The Test match once again proved that Indian spinners, especially Ravichandran Ashwin (1/126 in 35 overs), is not same bowler when there isn't much help in the wicket. The Kotla track didn't show any wear and tear throughout the five days, rendering Ashwin ineffective in the second innings.
He tried a lot of doosras, carom balls and altered the speed of his deliveries, but they were of no use. The trio of De Silva, Roshen and Dickwella used Ashwin's pace and picked up runs easily. His stock delivery, which is the conventional off-break, never came into use save once when he had bowled rival captain Dinesh Chandimal.
If not getting turn was Ashwin's bane, Jadeja was at his restrictive best but again the 'x-factor' in his bowling, when there is some turn and grip on the surface, was missing. He was quicker through the air, hardly flighted the ball, depending on deliveries that straightened as batsmen played for turn.
De Silva, who had a problem using his feet during the later stages due to a muscle pull, was easily able to play him inside the crease. During the final hour of the day, a frustrated Jadeja at times was seen kicking the dust as breakthroughs were hard to come by.
This is the first time in six Tests this year that the islanders managed to stretch Virat Kohli's men to the last session of a match, deservingly earning a favourable result after all the mauling in the past few months.
De Silva's innings was the highlight of the first two sessions as he was hardly troubled by the Indian bowlers en route his third Test hundred. Towards the end, he started hobbling due to the cramps, having played 219 balls.
His innings was studded with 15 boundaries and a six off Ashwin.
The range of his strokes was impressive as he cut and pulled with ease whenever the spinners dropped anything short. Anything pitched up was driven with disdain.
Jadeja, who completed most of his overs within 90 seconds, bowled quick and flat with the occasional delivery turning sharply.
Among the Indian quartet, he looked the most effective, keeping the batsmen pegged on the backfoot.
During the first session, Jadeja endured mixed luck with a couple of no-balls. The first one accounted for Angelo Mathews (1), with the umpires missing it altogether, while the second was a brilliant delivery to clean up Chandimal but the umpires were more cautious and promptly called him for overstepping.
First-innings centurion Mathews was dismissed when he edged one off Jadeja to the slips. But the left-arm spinner was lucky as he was not called for a no-ball even as replays showed that no part of his foot was behind the popping crease.
However, Jadeja was not so lucky when he bowled a classic left-armer's delivery that had Chandimal beaten all ends up. This time umpire Joel Wilson checked for the no-ball and the Sri Lanka captain got a reprieve.
It was a day when the Feroz Shah Kotla was bathed in bright sunshine, cutting through the haze that had forced the visiting players to don anti-pollution masks till Tuesday.
The pitch was as flat as it could have been, which made strokeplay easier, as De Silva and Chandimal added 105 runs in 33 overs for the fifth wicket.