Mathews, Chandimal fight through wicketless session

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Lunch: Sri Lanka 192 for 3 (Mathews 90*, Chandimal 52*) trail India 536 for 7 dec by 344 runs

After Sri Lanka’s best session with the bat on this punishing tour of India, Angelo Mathews stood on the brink of ending a long and difficult wait – a wait of two years, three months, and 36 innings without a Test century. Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal, ex-captain and current captain, batted through a wicketless morning at the Feroz Shah Kotla, stretching their fourth-wicket partnership to 117 and moving Sri Lanka to 192 for 3 at lunch on day three.

It was painstaking progress against a bowling attack that never let up the pressure. Sri Lanka scored 61 runs in the session, off 26.3 overs. But even if Mathews and Chandimal endured a few uncomfortable moments, they gave India no real chances, and conditions, by and large, remained good to bat in. These were encouraging signs for Sri Lanka to continue their fight, but they remained a long way behind in the game, 344 adrift of India’s first-innings total at lunch.

Mathews survived a nervy period as lunch approached, when he could sight three figures on the horizon and Ravindra Jadeja brought his field up to try and tempt him into a big shot. It nearly worked, as Mathews stepped out, failed to reach the pitch of the ball, went through with his attempted loft over the covers, and only managed to slice the ball to backward point – on the bounce, to his relief.

In the last over before lunch, Jadeja, out of nowhere, got one to bounce awkwardly as Mathews stretched out to defend, hitting his glove. Next ball, a push to mid-off and a hurried sprint took Mathews to 90 and the safety of the non-striker’s end.

The struggle summarised Mathews’ innings. He had been beaten numerous times by the fast bowlers on the second afternoon when he had pushed and prodded with his feet going nowhere, and had been dropped at second slip on 6. He had grown in assurance thereafter, utilising all his know-how to keep India’s attack out, but it was seldom pretty.

He was quick to punish anything on his legs, and targeted R Ashwin – who, for the second day running, was under-utilised, only coming on with 25 minutes left for lunch – for his rare flashes of adventure, such as a delicate lap-sweep to go from 83 to 87.

Otherwise, it was sheer, stubborn resistance. Early in the morning, he was beaten a few times by Mohammed Shami, who bowled another spell of testing line, the odd bouncer, and just a touch of seam movement, all at high pace, and miscued a pull into no-man’s land. Camped on the back foot against Ishant Sharma, he reached out for full balls and skewed and sliced them squarer than intended.

As the session wore on, Ishant packed the leg side and peppered him with short balls. Perhaps he overdid it, but there were still a few awkward moments, such as a pull that flashed narrowly wide of the man at short fine leg.

Like Mathews, Chandimal was troubled by Shami early on. A short ball from wide of the crease smacked him on the glove, and three balls later he was a little slow getting on the front foot to a full ball in the channel, the resultant edge falling short of first slip. At one point, the smoggy atmosphere caused him some difficulty, bringing the physio onto the field. Otherwise, he looked composed as he settled into the kind of defensive innings he has now become adept at playing – think SSC, 2016, or Abu Dhabi, a couple of months ago.

Occasionally, he unfurled an eye-catching attacking shot – such as a cover drive off Shami or a twinkle-toed whip against the turn off Jadeja – but otherwise it was all vigilant defence as he moved to his third successive half-century of the series, looking increasingly secure and promising more frustration for India after lunch.

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