PALLEKELE – A blazing century from all-rounder Hardik Pandya and four wickets from spinner Kuldeep Yadav left India in total command of the third and final Test against Sri Lanka on Sunday.
Kuldeep led an inspired bowling display with his left-arm wrist spin to help dismiss Sri Lanka for 135 in response to India’s 487, before the visitors enforced the follow-on in Pallekele in search of a series whitewash.
The hosts were 19/1 at stumps on day two, still trailing India by 333 runs. Dimuth Karunaratne on 12 and nightwatchman Malinda Pushpakumara on nought were at the crease.
Paceman Umesh Yadav had opener Upul Tharanga trudging back to the pavilion for seven after the left-handed batsman dragged a delivery, which was going away, onto his stumps.
But it was Pandya’s 96-ball 108 that paved the way for India’s dominance after resuming the day on 329/6.
“It was an ideal opportunity and obviously there was a team’s goal which was to get them a 400-run target and we scored close to 490. I was taking a calculative risk,” Pandya told reporters.
“I am pretty lucky to have such a team and such people who are supporting me and backing me all out,” added Pandya, who made his Test debut in the series opener in Galle.
Kuldeep, another Indian rookie, then flattened the Sri Lankan batting in the hosts’ first innings, returning impressive figures of 4-40 in just his second Test.
The 22-year-old turned on the heat to rattle the middle-order and combined with fellow spinner Ravichandran Ashwin to wipe out the tail in the final session.
Off-spinner Ashwin took two wickets including the prized scalp of skipper Dinesh Chandimal, who top-scored with a gritty 87-ball 48.
Pace spearhead Mohammed Shami also contributed two wickets, removing the Sri Lankan openers in the first five overs of the innings.
Pandya, 23, also chipped in with his pace bowling to have former captain Angelo Mathews lbw for nought.
But it was Pandya’s batting blitz that tore apart the Sri Lanka attack as the right-hander hit eight fours and seven sixes after starting on his overnight score of one.
He was finally out to spinner Lakshan Sandakan, who claimed his first five-wicket Test haul, on the third ball of the second session as India’s innings ended without adding to the lunch total.
“I always wanted to play Test cricket. Its name is Test because it is a difficult format; it tests your patience, fitness, temperament,” said Pandya, who is already being compared to iconic Indian all-rounder Kapil Dev.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s batting coach Hashan Tillakaratne gave no excuses for the team’s poor batting performance, but said he hoped the boys will learn from their mistakes.
“It’s a disappointing day. We batted so poorly today, I am sure the boys have realised where we went wrong (and) will come out with a better plan tomorrow,” said the former left-handed batsman.
“There are so many things that you can say when the team is not doing too well. This is the time we must back these guys and give them confidence,” he added.
India are eyeing their first-ever series sweep in Sri Lanka after taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in Colombo.