India lost their centurions, one at the start of play, and the other about half an hour to lunch, in a manner that suggested Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane had heard the calls from the dressing room that they were hogging all the fun. Once they relented, a strong lower order – with an allrounder at No. 9 – took their total past 600 for the sixth time in nine months. Sri Lanka did have a few moments to celebrate, of course, but each time their batsmen cast a suspicious eye on the pitch. It had begun puffing up clouds of dust like a steam train from the sixties.
Virat Kohli declared on 622 for 9, giving the opposition 20 overs to survive. Upul Tharanga fell for a duck with the ball – juicy, short and on leg stump – sticking in short leg’s midriff. As he walked back, he might have felt like that kid in the arcade who had stood in an endless queue, impatiently waiting for their turn to have some fun, but just as he got his hands on the controllers, there was a city-wide power outage.
India’s spinners continued to create more chances – the hard new ball offering more bite off the pitch – and Dimuth Karunaratne succumbed for 25. R Ashwin was the successful bowler on both occasions as he strutted out his offbreaks like an art collector exhibiting his best pieces. There was the old faithful, with a 45-degree seam, turning and bouncing sharply. The cheeky undercutter, that comes out with no change in grip or action but for the seam being almost perpendicular to the pitch. And finally the bold carrom ball, probing the other edge. All of them were aimed at off stump, so there were no easy leaves.
By the end of the day, no one would be blamed for forgetting he had also scored important runs. Ashwin struck one of six fifties for India – a feat his team has achieved only twice in 253 away Tests. He got off the mark with an airy boundary behind point, pierced gaps at cover that seemed non-existent, and with a six over long-off, he asserted his place among the best in the business. Only 15 allrounders have claimed 2000 runs and 250 wickets in Tests. Ashwin reached there quicker than anybody else, in 51 matches.
Wriddhiman Saha had watched a team-mate being stumped after haring down the track, but that had no bearing on his move to do the same and swat his fourth ball to the long-on boundary. He is a composed player of spin because of his ability to both sweep and stride down the pitch. He can then choose to attack or defend or nudge gaps – which were available aplenty as the total swelled monstrously.
India scored a hundred or more in four of the five full sessions they batted at the Sinhalese Sports Club, and the only time they couldn’t, they’d already racked up 98. The carnage almost spilled over, in the 131st and 149th overs, when after berating the bowlers, Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja took aim at umpire Rod Tucker with blistering straight drives. Thankfully, his reflexes were spot on.