With six stitches in his left hand and defying dismal form, Sri Lanka’s Kaushal Silva has all but batted Australia out of the third Test in Colombo with a fighting century.
Silva’s 115 laid the platform for the hosts to go to stumps on day four at 8-312 in their second innings, leading by 288 runs as they seek a 3-0 series whitewash.
The victory target is already at an imposing level with Sri Lanka’s three spinners no doubt licking their lips at the prospect of bowling on a dusty Sinhalese Sports Club strip on the fifth day.
Australia would’ve been buoyed by a reasonable start on Tuesday when they had Sri Lanka 4-98 half an hour before lunch, but the diminutive Silva rose to the occasion to blunt the Mitchell Starc-led attack.
His five scores leading into the second innings were 4, 7, 5, 2 and 0.
However he turned that horrible streak around in emphatic fashion, keeping the Aussie bowlers toiling in the sapping Colombo heat in using up 269 balls.
It was a gutsy dig not just given the mental anguish he would’ve felt in the midst of the form slump but also the physical pain after splitting the webbing in his left hand while fielding on day three.
He shared in a pivotal 90-run sixth-wicket partnership with Dinesh Chandimal (43) that lifted some pressure after their first-session stumble.
Silva also added 58 with Angelo Mathews (26) before the skipper attempted a sweep shot to Nathan Lyon (4-123) that caught his glove and ballooned to Steve Smith at first slip.
That brought up 210 Test wickets for Lyon to move past Stuart MacGill and become Australia’s fourth most-prolific spin bowler in terms of wickets behind only Shane Warne, Richie Benaud and Clarrie Grimmett.
Lyon worked hard to get the most out of the drying strip, but skipper Smith probably would’ve expected him to create more chances in his 37 overs.
Starc (2-58) was again the most likely to make something happen with the ball, but the heat and humidity took its toll on the paceman.
He took the big scalp of series top-scorer Kusal Mendis before lunch to take his series tally to a remarkable 24 wickets at an average of 14.58 on pitches far from conducive to pace bowling.
In subcontinental conditions his return has been bettered by only one Australian quick in a Test series.
Fellow left-armer Alan Davidson bagged 29 wickets against India in 1959-60, but that was in a five-Test series.
There was early controversy when Australian wicketkeeper Peter Nevill stumped Dimuth Karunaratne for 22.
It wasn’t your average stumping though, with Nevill whipping the bails off almost two seconds after he caught a Lyon delivery.
Karunaratne wasn’t attempting a run, nor was he off balance from the defensive stroke.
Nonetheless after a review, the opener was on his way and a beaming Nevill had Australia on their way for the day.
Jon Holland (2-72) snared Kusal Perera when he got a slight edge on a sweep shot which looped to Nevill and also the scalp of centurion Silva caught by Smith at slip.
First-innings century-maker Dhananjaya de Silva was classy again late in the day and will resume on Wednesday on 44 not out.