There are catches that are part of the game’s folklore, in much the same way as its greatest hundreds and five-wicket hauls. Cricket may be a game of bat and ball, but no chronicle of its storied past is complete without fielding anecdotes.
Try telling the story of India’s World Cup win in 1983 without referring to Kapil Dev’s running catch to dismiss the rampant Viv Richards in the final. How can you possibly talk of the 2005 Ashes without mentioning Geraint Jones flinging himself in desperation to catch Michael Kasprowicz and give England a series-turning two-run win at Edgbaston? And where will you find an account of the first World Cup final (1975) that doesn’t include the three run-outs that Richards affected?
The third Test of this series, in Pallekele, is a dead rubber. Whatever feats it showcases over the next few days will have to be viewed through that prism. Teams talk of every game being important, and there was certainly no complacency from India on day one, but it’s hard to summon up the same intensity at 2-0 that you would at 1-1, no matter which end of the scoreline you’re on.
If you’re the team that’s lost the series, it’s even harder to lift the performance levels. Individuals are looking over their shoulders, confidence is shot, and inspiration in very short supply. For the first half of the day, Sri Lanka looked exactly what they were in Galle and Colombo – a well-beaten side.
After 47 overs, India were rattling along at 219 for 1. Despite KL Rahul missing out on three figures, Shikhar Dhawan had cruised to another fluent hundred. Cheteshwar Pujara was playing himself in methodically, and it looked very much like another 400-run day to forget for the hosts.
But then came the catch. His team may have lost the series, and his bowlers may have taken a fearful hammering in the first session, but Dinesh Chandimal was switched on and alive to the opportunity when Dhawan absolutely bludgeoned a sweep off Malinda Pushpakumara. Another foot to Chandimal’s left, and the deep fielder would have been retrieving yet another hit to the rope.
Instead, Chandimal jumped smartly to his left, and made a difficult grab look relatively simple. Dhawan trudged off, and the momentum left India’s innings like air from a balloon. In the last 43 overs of the day’s play, they eked out just 110 runs, losing another four wickets.
The conditions undoubtedly played a part. By late afternoon, there was sharp turn and bounce for Lakshan Sandakan and Pushpakumara. R Ashwin, who made a solid 31 before edging behind, and Kuldeep Yadav, watching on from the dressing room, would have noted it with great interest, ahead of their stints with the ball on Sunday.
Both Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane fell to tossed-up deliveries that invited the expansive stroke, while Pujara and Virat Kohli fell to balls that weren’t quite there to cut or drive. By stumps, Sri Lanka’s spinners bore more than a passing resemblance to their illustrious predecessors, with batsmen unsure whether to jump to the pitch of the ball or play from the crease. This was the day they didn’t have in either Galle or Colombo, when the series was lost.
Vishwa Fernando was impressive with the new ball, while Lahiru Kumara improved after a poor start. But you don’t often win Test matches giving up 134 runs in the first session, and that too against a demonstrably better side. With the pitch already playing some tricks, and a new threat to combat in Kuldeep, Sri Lanka could yet rue that shoddy start. Chandimal’s catch, and the spinners’ greater control, transformed their fortunes, but if India go beyond 400, the 3-0 whitewash will be a very real possibility.