Colombo: India on Tuesday clinched their first Test series victory on Sri Lankan soil in 22 years with an emphatic 117-run win over the hosts in the third and final cricket Test despite a valiant century by rival skipper Angelo Mathews.
After setting a daunting victory target of 386, India managed to dismiss the Sri Lankans for 268 on a wicket which slowed down considerably to wrap up the series 2-1, their first overseas series victory since June, 2011 against the West Indies.
It was new captain Virat Kohli’s first series win ever since he took over reins of the team from Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
On an absorbing final day’s play, the visitors took two quick wickets in the morning session before Mathews (110) and debutant Kusal Perera (70) scripted a spirited fightback to frustrate the Indians.
The duo put on a resolute 135-run partnership for the sixth wicket, the second-highest stand in the fourth innings in Sri Lanka’s Test history. Roy Dias and Duleep Mendis hold the record of biggest fourth innings partnership with a 214- run stand.
Off-spinner R Ashwin was the pick of the Indian bowlers with four for 69 while paceman Ishant Sharma scalped three for 32. Umesh Yadav chipped in with two for 65.
The last time an Indian team won a series in Sri Lanka was way back in 1993 under Mohammed Azharuddin’s leadership when they sealed the series with 1-0 scoreline.
The fifth day’s action was not devoid of drama as more on-field altercation took place with Kusal Perera being involved in a heated exchange with Indian players.
Ashwin took the last wicket of Nuwan Pradep to bring about India’s moment of glory, triggering scenes of wild celebrations in the dressing room as the players hugged each other and picked up the stumps as mementos.
Ashwin provided the vital breakthrough by breaking the sixth-wicket partnership with Perera’s scalp. The second new ball, taken after tea break, turned the tide completely in India’s favour with Ishant getting rid of Mathews in the very first over.
Mathews struck his seventh Test hundred as the skipper was solid from one end while the keeper-batsman Perera looked to go on the offensive. With the pitch easing out and India rotating their bowlers in short spells, the two batsmen made merry at the crease.
Their 50-run partnership came off only 85 balls as Sri Lanka crossed the 100-mark. In the first hour after lunch, they added 39 runs in 13 overs with the match hanging in balance. Then the 200-mark came up in the 68th over. On their part, the Indian bowlers didn’t lose control of their line and length, with runs not coming too quickly for any discomfort.
But the partnership increased as time passed and Mathews-Perera put on 100 runs off 186 balls. Perera scored his second half-century of the match, reaching there off 89 balls.
It was Mathews who was the star of the day though, reaching his second consecutive hundred in the series off 217 balls. He should have been out LBW at 93 but umpire Nigel Llong denied Mishra in the 70th over on account of an inside edge which wasn’t there. It almost looked as if India would go wicket-less in the session, but Ashwin returned one last time before the tea break to remove Perera.
The batsman threw his hard work away, going for a reverse sweep and hitting straight to Rohit Sharma at point, four overs before tea. Rangana Herath (3) was the unbeaten batsman at the other end.
Earlier, India kept calling the shots by reducing the hosts to 134 for 5 by lunch. The hosts started the day at their overnight score of 67 for 3. With the ball still relatively new, Ashwin completed his over from day four evening and was immediately taken off.
The pacers were deployed immediately, with Yadav and Ishant beginning proceedings in earnest. Ishant should have taken a wicket in his very first over of the morning, when Mathews edged a delivery behind, but off a no ball. The Lankan skipper then denied any straight chance for the rest of the session as he went on to score a half- century off 118 balls.
Prior to that, there were some moments of disappointment for the hosts as two of their main batsmen got out to poor shots on a day five pitch that was still easing out.
Kaushal Silva (27) was the first to, in the third full over of the day. Yadav continued his short-ball tactics but aimed it better at the right-handed batsman this time, who didn’t find too much space to properly pull the delivery. He simply lobbed a catch to Cheteshwar Pujara at short midwicket and the Indian made no mistake. He had put on 53 runs for the fourth wicket with Mathews.
Lahiru Thirimanne (12) came to the crease, looking to make amends for a lean series. He started full of intent to score runs, and helped Lanka cross the 100-mark in the 36th over after which Mathews reached his half-century. But his problems began as in the very next over spin was re-introduced with Mishra.
Both spinners were deployed in tandem thereafter and Ashwin struck in his very first over of the new spell. Thirimanne looked to play against the turn and only managed to lob a leading edge caught by KL Rahul at silly point. This was the fourth time in six innings in this series that Ashwin dismissed the left-handed batsman.
Perera and Mathews then batted out the little session of play before lunch. But despite an easier pitch than on the past four days, Lanka were still staring down the barrel.
On day one, Sri Lanka had won the toss and elected to field first, but only 15 overs were possible after persistent rains washed out the remaining day’s play. On day two, Pujara scored his seventh Test hundred to help India scored 312 runs in their first innings.
15 wickets fell on day three as Lanka were bowled out for 201 runs and conceded a 111-run lead. On day four, India scored 274 runs in their second innings and took an overall lead of 385 runs. Lanka won the first Test in Galle by 63 runs, and India came back with a 278-run win at the P Sara Oval in the second Test.