Kusal Perera © AFP
Kusal Perera, on debut, contributed 55 in a stand of 79 with Rangana Herath © AFP

India’s dominant position in the third Test against Sri Lanka on the third day was nullified by two contrasting knocks from Kusal Perera and Rangana Herath. Abhishek Mukherjee observes the remarkable turnaround from what could have been a series-settling disaster for Sri Lanka. CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Colombo

But for a fearless Kusal Perera and a determined Rangana Herath, India could have established a victorious position by stumps on Day Three. The all-round work to provide that promise entailed a hard-working century from Cheteshwar Pujara, and accurate, quick bowling from Ishant Sharma to reduce Sri Lanka to 52 for 6. With Dhammika Prasad injured due to a blow on his left hand by a short ball from Sharma, and uncertainty over his participation in his team’s batting, the lower order’s back was against the wall.  Smartly, though, Perera and Herath accumulated runs: Perera, with his counterattacking strokes against targeted bowlers, and Herath with his dabs, turns, steers, sweeps and reverse-sweeps.

The two put on 79 runs to frustrate the dominant side, evident in Virat Kohli’s reaction after completing a catch to dismiss the half-centurion, Perera. The attempted pull was mistimed, the ball lobbed up high for Kohli at mid-on. Kohli mumbled his angst and kicked the caught ball away. But the damage was done. Herath had gained confidence to accelerate, and he found aggressive partners in Tharindu Kaushal and later, Prasad. The last four wickets took 149 runs to fall.

Perera has limited-overs credentials as a powerful hitter of the ball ala Sanath Jayasuriya. He had decided he was not going to be uncertain against India’s bowling, for if his wicket had to fall, it would fall anyway. He may as well get some runs while he was at the crease.  His first boundary, off the rampaging Sharma, was a prompt punch off the back foot to extra cover, a signal of his intent. CRICKET UPDATES: India vs Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Colombo, Day 4

He was especially comfortable against the other seamer Umesh Yadav, off whom he collected 26 off 16 deliveries. Perera latched on to a fierce pull through mid-on, and cut him to collect a four through mid-on, in only the third over he faced. He was dropped by Rahul in between these shots, after Perera provided an edge to first slip. He farmed the strike to maximise impact, shielding Herath from the potent bowling being bowled.

When the spinners came on, he planned his attack. After performing the sweep off off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, he executed a reverse-sweep with ease, to unsettle the Indian unit. His second over against Yadav was a prolific one, too. By this time, he had gained confidence to up his belligerence. He dispatched the overpitched and short deliveries from the fast bowler for two authoritative boundaries. The third over from Yadav had him slogging hard to midwicket to take two braces, and reaching fifty. The attacking mode in him was at a peak; he smote a four off Sharma off another slog, but, trying to repeat it, perished. READ: India 21/3 against Sri Lanka, lead by 132 at stumps on Day 3 of 3rd Test at Colombo (SSC)

On the other end, Herath had seen enough to believe he can contribute significantly. He kept ducking under the purposeful short balls from India’s seamers, and even stared back at a staring Sharma. His first boundary arrived only nine overs after he played his first ball. He deposited two fours off the medium pace of Stuart Binny. When spinners were bowling from both ends during the eighth wicket stand, he swept and reverse-swept as a habit, intensifying India’s headache. Initially, he failed to connect or played it to the fielders, but later, he punished Ashwin to get a few run runs and two boundaries, one via a reverse-sweep to third man. He perished one short of a half-century, edging behind Sharma.

Perera and Herath scored 55 and 49 respectively to get their team back, but more remarkably, found a method to resist and thrive under India’s quality attack. The spinners failed against them, and so did the middling Yadav and a frustrated Sharma for quite some time. The three wickets Sri Lanka’s seamers picked at the end of the day boosted the side, as an effective score of 132 for 3 meant both teams have their chances to make this Test their own. If Dinesh Chandimal performed the turnaround in the first Test, these less distinguished men did it in the decider, even if the eventual result may not go their way.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @bhejafryyy)