Colombo: Cheteshwar Pujara marked his recall with an unbeaten century after Sri Lanka’s Dhammika Prasad ripped through India’s batting in the decisive third and final Test in Colombo on Saturday.(Scorecard | Highlights)
The tourists, who resumed at 50-2 after a rain-curtailed opening day, moved to 292-8 by stumps on the second day at the Sinhalese Sports Club with Pujara holding fort on a watchful 135 not out.
Pujara, who had been dropped for India’s last four Tests across Australia, Bangladesh and the ongoing series, may not have played this match too if both regular openers Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan had been fit.
The 27-year-old grabbed the chance to notch up his seventh Test century that has so far included 13 boundaries.
Fast bowler Prasad bowled superbly to take four wickets in the innings, including two off successive balls on either side of the lunch break that reduced India to 119-5.
Number nine batsman Amit Mishra came to India’s rescue with a defiant 59 during an eighth wicket stand of 104 with Pujara which boosted the total.
“This is definitely one of the toughest wickets I have played on,” said Pujara. “It’s a challenge to bat on it because you have to keep defending to survive and wait for the loose ball.
“I tried to keep things simple and play my natural game. It was important to play the ball from close to the body because a few guys got out playing it away from the body.”
Pujara said encouraging words from Indian batting great Rahul Dravid motivated him when he was out of the playing XI.
“Rahul told me there was nothing wrong with my technique and that I was batting well,” said Pujara. “He told me to stay calm and a big one could some soon.”
Just 15 overs had been bowled in the 75 minutes of play possible due to rain on the opening day after India had been sent in to bat on a greenish pitch under overcast conditions.
When play resumed under bright skies on the second day, the tourists were restricted to 22 runs in the first 15 overs by some accurate bowling by the Sri Lankans.
Indian skipper Virat Kohli survived a torrid opening over from Prasad in which he was lucky to escape a loud shout for leg-before off the second ball and was beaten by the final ball of the over.
Kohli added four runs to his overnight score of 14 when Sri Lankan captain Angelo Mathews, who replaced Prasad at the bowling crease, had his counterpart caught behind by Kusal Perera.
Pujara added 55 for the fourth wicket with Rohit Sharma (26) and 54 for the sixth with debutant wicket-keeper Naman Ojha (21).
Prasad had Rohit Sharma caught in the slips off what became the final delivery of the morning session and then trapped Stuart Binny leg-before with the first ball on resumption.
Prasad said it was a delight to be able to bowl on a helpful surface.
“I am enjoying bowling on it, but you have to make sure you don’t get carried away,” he said.
Prasad conceded Sri Lanka had let the advantage slip, but hoped India’s innings will end early on Sunday.
“We had them seven down for 180, but then came the century stand between Pujara and Mishra,” he said. “That put us back a little, but I think we can get back into a good position if we take the remaining wickets early.”
The series is locked at 1-1 after Sri Lanka won the opening Test in Galle by 63 runs and India drew level with a 278-run win in the second match at the P. Sara Oval in Colombo on Monday.