India will resume on 329-6 on Sunday when the action resumes in Pallekelle as they target a series sweep.
Sri Lanka's bowlers strike back after Dhawan's hundred in third Test
Shikhar Dhawan struck a century for India, but Sri Lanka’s spinners fought back to leave honours finely balanced after the first day of the third Test yesterday.
Malinda Pushpakumara took three wickets and Lakshan Sandakan two, leaving India on 329-6 at the close, with Wriddhiman Saha on 13 and Hardik Pandya on one to return to the crease today when the action restarts.
Pushpakamara rattled the Indian top-order with his left-arm spin after a 188-run opening stand between Dhawan, who hit 119 in 123 balls, and Lokesh Rahul.
Left-arm wrist spinner Sandakan’s wickets included Indiancaptain Virat Kohli for 42.
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"The Sri Lanka bowlers bowled well and pulled the match a little bit on their side," Dhawan, who celebrated his sixth Test century, said. "We got a good start and still feel at the end of the day, 329 is a good score."
India elected to bat first after Kohli called correctly at the toss as they eye a series clean sweep after taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in Colombo last week.
The two wins were built on making big scores batting first, making 600 in Galle and 622-9 in Colombo, and it looked as if it would be more of the same yesterday as India got off to a strong start.
The left-right opening batting team of Dhawan and Rahul, who made 85, took India through the first session without losing a wicket as the Sri Lankan bowling attack struggled to contain them.
Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal then rotated his spinners in the second session and India lost three wickets in just 11 overs to give the hosts a foothold in the game.
The 30-year-old Pushpakumara, who made his Test debut in the second Test in Colombo, removed the openers to bring the hosts back into the contest.
Rahul, who scored his seventh consecutive Test fifty, mistimed a drive to mid-on and Dhawan soon followed his partner to the pavilion.
Rahul joined Everton Weekes, Andy Flower, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Kumar Sangakkara and Chris Rogers on the list of batsmen who have made seven consecutive 50-plus scores in Tests.
Kohli tried to stem the rot during a 84-ball innings, ended when he edged a Sandakan delivery to slip.
Kohli and India toiled in the last session. The innings run-rate plummeted from around five in the morning session to 2.76 after tea as it became an objective of trying to survive rather than looking to score quick runs.
“It’s not easy to score runs out there and even outfield is not that quick. When Sri Lanka come out to bat, we are going to make sure that we squeeze them hard,” said Dhawan.
Pace spearhead Vishwa Fernando chipped in with the wicket of Ravichandran Ashwin, who was caught behind after a hard-working 31.
“The bowlers came and bowled pretty well. Especially the spinners. We let them to 320 (329) for the first day. I’m really, really happy with the spinners,” Sri Lanka’s fast bowling consultant Chaminda Vaas said.
“At the end, the way Vishwa bowled in the last two spells was also good.I think the way he’s going he has a future and potential,” added the former paceman.