International teams consider certain venues as their fortress. If Australia consider Perth as a special ground, India have Ferozeshah Kotla, where their last defeat came in 1987 and since then the hosts have won nine and drawn one.
India breached Perth in 2008 with a teenaged Ishant Sharma providing the defining moment, when he dug deep into his reserves to bowl a ninth over and dismiss Ricky Ponting. The fightback triggered by that breakthrough led to an emotional victory for the visitors after the massive distraction caused by the Monkeygate scandal in the previous Sydney Test.
If India go on to win the final Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground on Tuesday, it will be no less remarkable. For one, they would have ended a 22-year wait to achieve only their second series victory in Sri Lanka. There was enough heat generated with tempers flaring on the fourth day between both sides to make it emotional as well.
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Ishant was in the middle of it all, but he also made the ball talk. He struck twice in succession as India chipped the top of Sri Lanka’s shaky batting line-up to leave them struggling at 67 for three after setting a near-impossible fourth innings target of 386. India, having somewhat lost control after the loss of quick wickets overnight, fought back with batting contributions down the order.
Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma (50) first ensured there would be no early setbacks on Monday morning before the latter, Stuart Binny (49), R Ashwin (58) and Amit Mishra (39) grinded their way through the Sri Lanka bowlers. Both Dhammika Prasad and Nuwan Pradeep bowled their hearts out, but the doggedness with the bat has given India a perfect chance.
Sri Lanka’s win percentage is better at the Galle stadium --- they have won 14 of 26 matches and lost six --- but they have simply refused to lose at the SSC. Out of 38 games, they have won 18 and lost six, and the last reverse came against Australia in 2004. In that game, they were dismissed for 248 chasing 370. Since then, they have seven wins and draws each.
The re-laid wicket has kept bowlers in the hunt, and Ishant and company will back themselves to push Sri Lanka to the corner. The clashes between him and Prasad, after the latter bowled a series of bouncers, and Chandimal were needless, but that fired up the bowler.
The talking point in the Indian innings was Rohit’s knock. For a change, he was judicious in his choice of shots, leaving those tempting deliveries outside off. His two partnerships with Kohli — who again fell poking outside off-stump — and Binny helped India regain some composure. But Rohit ensured debate about his application will not go, after top-edging a hook against Prasad to deep backward square leg with India having only gotten 226 runs ahead. Debutant Naman Ojha (35) also chipped in, and although Ashwin lost focus to be dismissed last man following the fracas involving Ishant, Prasad and Chandimal, India had enough time to make inroads.
Skipper Angelo Mathews (22) and opener Kaushal Silva (24) batted positively but will have to play out of their skins to salvage this one.