West Indies began with a promising breakthrough, but failure to follow up on it has Sri Lanka in command
Lunch Sri Lanka 359 for 5 (Nissanka 74*, Dickwella 38*) and 169 lead West Indies 271 (Cornwall 61, Lakmal 5-47) by 257 runs
A morning session that had started off in nightmarish fashion, with the loss of the set Dhananjaya De Silva, ended with Sri Lanka in near-dreamland as the pair of Pathum Nissanka and Niroshan Dickwella dug deep to wrestle back control of the game. The pair’s unbroken 100-run stand in a brisk 147 deliveries – a positively express rate in terms of the match – ballooned what was a fledgling 153-run lead at the start of the day to a rather more imposing 257.
But in many ways the equation for the teams hasn’t changed much. Starting off the fourth day there could hardly have been clearer debriefs for both sets of players. For West Indies, the aim would have been to pick up the two wickets needed to expose Sri Lanka’s long tail. For Sri Lanka, the plan would have been to score as many runs as possible, but more importantly to put as much value on their wickets as possible.
So far, both sides have taken turns in partially accomplishing what they set out to do; Sri Lanka have accumulated runs but will only feel comfortable once that lead breaches the 300-mark, while West Indies will be keenly aware of the very real potential for a collapse if they can break this partnership.
The first to draw blood were the hosts, as Alzarri Joseph was surprisingly given first crack with the new ball ahead of Kemar Roach. Joseph, though, repaid the faith shown in him by Kraigg Brathwaite, removing the dangerous de Silva, who had brought up his eighth Test fifty just a few balls prior with a deft flick behind square leg for four.
Having been offered a few 130kph-ish sighters, de Silva found himself rushed by an inswinger hitting 143kph, and was unable to connect with his attempted flick as the ball clattered into the stumps off the front pad.
At that point, the lead stood at 157, and Joseph and Roach were full of energy, clearly sensing another collapse around the corner. In hindsight though, perhaps it was this urgency to pick up another wicket that gave Sri Lanka more of a foothold.
While much of the previous day had been defined by Sri Lankan batsman overcoming the obdurate lines and lengths of the home side’s bowlers, this morning saw those same lines and lengths bookended by far more loose deliveries. A 104 runs in the session in 25 overs at 4.16, tells a story. Though it’s no coincidence this increase in scoring rate coincided with Dickwella arriving at the crease.
While his innings was still rather conservative by usual Dickwella standards, there were glimpses of what he’s capable of in his 63-ball 38. Two back-to-back boundaries off Joseph – the first whipped through the leg side, the next caressed square on the off – stood out, though it was a nonchalant uppercut over a packed slip cordon that will give the home side more cause for concern; if that Dickwella comes out to play, West Indies had best watch out.
At the other end, Nissanka was reaping the rewards of the home side’s increasing desperation for a breakthrough – as well an easing of the pitch in favour of the batsmen. Having struck just one boundary last evening, he notched four more in the morning – his favourite undoubtedly the dab down to the backward point fence to bring up his fifty, the 21st Sri Lankan to achieve the feat on debut. He was unbeaten on 74 – if he reaches his first Test hundred, it will have also gone much of the way to securing his side victory.