India 172 (Pujara 52; Lakmal 4-26) & 352-8dec (Kohli 104, Rahul 79, Dhawan 94; Lakmal 3-93, Shanaka 3-76) drew with Sri Lanka 294 (Herath 67, Mathews 52, Thirimanne 51; Kumar 4-88, Shami 4-100) & 75-7 (Kumar 4-8)
Virat Kohli turned a flat, dead game into a thrilling victory-push that almost defeated Sri Lanka at Kolkata. Coming in at 213-3, which soon became 213-4, and his side just 91 ahead, the India skipper blazed a hundred before pulling his team out with approximately 30 overs left before the inevitable bad light and a target of 231 set.
The tourists were up on first innings in this rain-affected match before VK’s third-innings masterpiece – his 104 coming from just 119 balls on a wearing Eden Gardens pitch – shifted the momentum in India’s favour, and like all the most daring captains, Kohli’s declaration with India eight down left a sliver of hope to Sri Lanka’s batsmen that they could overhaul the target; several were dismissed playing at balls they might have left had survival been the sole objective. In the event, bad light curtailed the match with Sri Lanka seven wickets down after withstanding just 26 overs; another hour and Kohli would surely have secured his most audacious Test victory yet.
After the stodgy, lackadaisical feel of the last days of MS Dhoni’s reign, Kohli’s perpetual energy and desperate desire to compete has injected new life into India’s Test cricket – as England, overturned in four of last winter’s five Test matches, will testify. This match here, even after two days of rain, bent once more to the captain’s will, and with a staggeringly clear-minded hundred by the man himself, his position not just as the new flagbearer for the five-day game but also its most devastating exponent is surely unassailable. He brought up the landmark with a six flayed over extra cover having danced the track, before getting down on one knee and letting out a roar, with the passion, aggression, and technical skill that define Kohli all coming together.
His hundred here was his 50th in all international cricket, and drew him level with Sunil Gavaskar’s record for Test centuries as captain, with 11 tons in just 30 matches as skipper. There will surely be many more to come.
A word too on India’s fast bowlers, who claimed all 17 Sri Lankan wickets to fall; remarkably the first time ever a home spinner hasn’t taken a wicket in a Test in India. At a ground which has become more amenable to seam in recent years, they bowled with intelligence, accuracy, and no little pace, and Sri Lanka had little answer. Bhuvneshwar Kumar justifiably earned the man-of-the-match award for his eight wickets, even considering Kohli’s brilliance.
With India set to tour South Africa in December, and then play five Tests in England next summer, their ability to make use of a helpful surface will encourage hopes that they can improve their overseas record in pace-friendly conditions; 2009 was the last time the won a series outside of Asia and the West Indies.
When play began with the home side just 49 ahead and one wicket down, there was little sign of the drama to come, and certainly no clue of Indian ascendancy. Wickets fell regularly as Suranga Lakmal added three wickets to his first-innings four-for, and Sri Lanka may have harboured hopes of skittling India and chasing down something in the region of 150. Kohli’s brilliance put paid to that, and gave a hard-fought Test match the finish it deserved.