Masterful Medis drives Sri lanka ahead
Kusal Mendis struck a magnificent maiden century on Thursday (July 28), as Sri Lanka fought its way back into contention in the first Test against Australia. By the time bad light brought an early end to the proceedings for a third consecutive day a little after tea, Sri Lanka had opened up a lead of 196 runs in Pallekele.
Playing in only his seventh Test, Mendis was batting on a monumental 169, with Sri Lanka 282 for 6 and eyeing a come-from-behind win. Giving Mendis company was Dilruwan Perera on 5.
Victory had seemed light years away when Sri Lanka was bowled out for just 117 on the first morning, but a Rangana Herath-led bowling fightback restricted Australia’s first-innings lead to just 86, and Mendis’s magnificent knock then put Sri Lanka in a position from where it can expect to put Australia under pressure in the fourth innings.
While the first two days of a weather-affected match were dominated by bowlers – with no batsman hitting even a half-century in the first innings of either side and Adam Voges’ 47 being the highest score – Mendis managed to tame what had appeared to be a hostile track in an innings that has featured 20 fours and a six. He put on significant partnerships with Dinesh Chandimal and Dhananjaya de Silva for the fifth and sixth wickets respectively to pull Sri Lanka out of trouble at 86 for 4.
Starting the day on 6 for 1, still 80 runs behind Australia, the home team was soon in even deeper trouble when Dimuth Karunaratne was trapped lbw by Mitchell Starc without adding to the overnight score.
His departure for a duck brought Mendis to the crease and the 21-year-old began to turn the course of the game with a solid rearguard innings that became increasingly expansive as the day progressed.
Sri Lanka, however, lost Kaushal Silva too early in the opening session, before Mendis stitched together a 41-run partnership for the fourth wicket with Angelo Mathews, the captain. Mathews stuck around for a while but was gobbled up by Joe Burns at short-leg off a tossed up Nathan Lyon delivery.
With the scores level when Mathews fell and Sri Lanka four down, Australia had the clear upper hand, but Mendis and Chandimal went through to lunch unscathed, and then built a superb stand. From 116 for 4 at lunch, Sri Lanka progressed smoothly, with the Australian bowlers hit by the loss of Steve O’Keefe, the left-arm spinner who had a pulled hamstring.
Mendis brought up his hundred by slog-sweeping Lyon for a six as the home team grew in confidence and began sniffing what would be an unlikely victory over the world’s No. 1 Test team.
Mitchell Marsh finally broke the stand, trapping Chandimal lbw for 42 to leave Sri Lanka on 203 for 5, but de Silva provided more solid support to Mendis. At tea, Sri Lanka was 253 for 5, with Mendis looking untroubled.
The rains stayed away for a bit longer on Thursday, with the result that both teams played in the first post-tea session of the match. That allowed Australia to make an important breakthrough, Lyon getting his 200th Test wicket when de Silva spooned a catch to Usman Khawaja at mid-off. However, only 10 overs were bowled in the final session, with the players going off for bad light at the end of the 80th over just when the second new ball became available to Australia.
A steady drizzle arrived after the players had walked off to ensure that any slim chance of play resuming also vanished, leaving the match tantalisingly poised going into the fourth day.