Slowly, but surely, India seem to be gaining more ground in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Kolkata's Eden Gardens. The Indians more than just bounced back on the fourth day after conceding a sizeable lead to the Sri Lankans; they completely dominated the second and third sessions of the day.
The hosts got off to a strong start on the penultimate day of the series opener as the pace duo of Bhuvneshwar Kumar (4/88) and Mohammed Shami (4/100) removed both overnight batsmen Niroshan Dickwella (35) and Dinesh Chandimal (28) as well as all-rounder Dasun Shanaka in a space of a few deliveries, reducing the visitors to 201/7.
The Sri Lankan tail, however, continued to wag and refused to give up. Veteran spinner Rangana Herath showed he isn't a pushover with the bat as he anchored the Sri Lankan innings, with his 105-ball 67 guiding the tourists to a score six shy of the 300-mark. With a lead of 122, the Sri Lankans were nicely poised to march towards their maiden Test win on Indian soil.
The new-ball pair of Suranga Lakmal and Lahiru Gamage needed just a couple of early wickets to keep the Indian batting unit under control for the remainder of the day.
However, the way the Indian opening pair responded might have very well deflated Chandimal and company's hopes as Shikhar Dhawan (94) and KL Rahul (73 batting) were at their flamboyant best with the bat. The duo unleashed a barrage of strokes against the pacers from the word go against the run of play, forging a first-wicket partnership that nearly equalled the hosts' first innings total.
By bringing up his ninth half-century in 11 Test innings, Rahul's golden duck in the first innings can now be seen as a blip in what can otherwise be seen as an astonishing run in the recent past. Dhawan, on the other hand, was sedate while on his way to his half-century, and decided to attack the spinners at will after crossing the milestone. He eventually fell six short of a century after getting an inside edge off Shanaka.
With a lead of 49, nine wickets in hand as well as the presence of Rahul and first innings-hero Cheteshwar Pujara at the crease, the stage seems set for the Indians to pile on a massive second innings total. That said, the match meandering towards a tame draw is what many are starting to predict at the moment. Knowing captain Virat Kohli, one assumes he won't let go of an opportunity to win even if the match has just one day left.
With the match heading towards a draw anyway under the current circumstances, Kohli and Co need to make the most of the first session if they are to think of a win, however unlikely it may be. While it might take Pujara some more time to get into his rhythm, one can expect Rahul to attack from the first ball, as would be the case with Kohli. Scoring at a run rate of over four in about one-and-a-half sessions will get India's lead close to 250, which could be worth a gamble for the hosts' attack.
The match has witnessed a refreshing contest between the two sides so far. It would be a shame for it to end on a dull note. Let's hope Kohli decides not to break character, and goads his team to go for the kill on Monday.
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