Sri Lanka 253 and 334 for 8 (Dananjaya 16*, Lakmal 7*, Gabriel 6-57, Roach 2-75) lead West Indies 300 by 287 runs
Two dashing innings – a confident 87 off 117 from Kusal Mendis, and a stroke filled 62 off 70 from Niroshan Dickwella – propelled Sri Lanka to a 287-run lead in St Lucia, edging them ahead in this match. Although Shannon Gabriel bowled spiritedly through the fourth day, collecting figures of 6 for 57 to take his match haul to 11 for 116, Sri Lanka still have two wickets remaining in their second innings. Only twice in this century have West Indies chased a higher score for victory. That the visitors found themselves in such a healthy position is a testament to their fight on day four, having found themselves effectively four wickets down with a lead of only one run, in the first hour of play.
Two big partnerships built this Sri Lanka innings. The first was the 117-run fifth-wicket stand between Mendis and a lucky Dinesh Chandimal, who could have been out twice on his way to 39 off 112 balls. The second was the 99-run association between Dickwella and Roshen Silva, after Mendis and Chandimal had fallen within 10 overs of one another. Silva made his first significant score of the series, hitting 48 off 115, while Mendis and Dickwella batted more aggressively at the other end. Both Silva and Dickwella were out to the second new ball, but late in the day, Suranga Lakmal and Akila Dananjaya put on a useful unbeaten partnership amounting to 27. As that second new ball is only nine overs old, however, West Indies will hope to knock out the last two wickets before the lead stretches to 300 on the fifth morning.
Gabriel has been the best bowler in the series by a distance, and Cricket West Indies’ recent decision to switch to the Dukes cricket ball appears to be suiting him well. He sometimes attempted to intimidate the batsmen, sending plenty at the ribs and at the throat, but it was the ball that he seamed in from outside off stump that brought him the most joy on day four. He struck nightwatchman Kasun Rajitha in front of the stumps in his first over of the day, then bowled Mendis off an inside edge much later. Roshen Silva was also out to a ball that bounced and nipped back at him more than he expected – Shane Dowrich snatching a tough chance close to the ground after Silva had gloved it.
Only Dananjaya de Silva and Dickwella got out to Gabriel deliveries pitched on fuller lengths. Dananjaya was caught at slip attempting an expansive drive – the ball seaming away to take the outside edge. Dickwella merely slapped a full ball into the hands of mid-off, after Gabriel had pitched on a leg stump line.
Where during his Trinidad hundred Mendis had had reprieves early in his innings, in this knock he was secure and polished. In the morning, he thwarted Gabriel’s short deliveries, defused Miguel Cummins and Roach, while taking a particular liking to Devendra Bishoo’s legspin, which he hit for 18 off 13 balls. As usual, he favoured the sweep to the spinners, and scored all but 12 of his total runs through the legside, the most attractive of his strokes an elegant push off Roach through mid-on for four early in the day. After lunch, he was especially confident. He whipped Roach over the leg side for six on two occasions, and swivel-pulled Jason Holder to the midwicket boundary for four. Some of the pressure he exerted on the bowlers through his positive approach had sucked some venom out of the West Indies effort, especially earlier in the day.
Dickwella had a slightly easier task, not having to face the newer ball, but his innings was nevertheless important, after he had arrived at the crease with Sri Lanka in some peril. He scored most of his runs in the arc between third man and cover, audaciously carving two boundaries over the slip cordon whenever he was given some width. But even though he struck at 89, less than half of Dickwella’s runs came from boundaries. The big shots may have been the most memorable, but this was an innings held together by sharp singles and twos.
Of the two supporting acts, Silva was better than Chandimal in this innings. For the first time in Caribbean, Silva managed to ride that sharp bounce that the West Indies quicks tend to generate, and stuck around while Dickwella scored more quickly at the other end. Chandimal was also reticent, only hitting a single boundary in an innings that stretched to 112 deliveries. He should have been out twice in one Gabriel over in the last half hour of the first session. First, he was struck in front of the stumps, but the appeal was turned down because two noises were heard. As it turned out, the second noise was the ball hitting his back pad, and had West Indies reviewed, they would have had Chandimal out for 21. Two balls later, Gabriel sent a bouncer at his throat and had Chandimal caught at gully. But thanks to Kusal Mendis, who had watched Gabriel overstep and prompted the umpire to check the front foot, Chandimal survived.
All this, after West Indies had threatened to run away with this Test with their early-morning surge. Inside the first seven overs of the day, they had taken three wickets – those of Rajitha, de Silva and Mahela Udawatte. Having had Sri Lanka 47 for 4, they will perhaps be disappointed that the score has now swelled to 334 for 8.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando
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