By Kristopher Hinz | July 28, 2016
The young Kusal Mendis has been hugely impressive in his short career. © AFP
After being bowled out for 117 on the opening day of the first Test in Pallekele, Sri Lanka made the most of restricting Australia to 203 by storming to a daunting 196-run lead with four wickets in hand at the end of the third day's play.
The day unquestionably belonged to the young Kusal Mendis, who struck an unbeaten 169 on a pitch other batsmen were unable to reach the half-century mark on. Mendis struck 20 fours and a six to bring up his century. He was immaculate in balancing attack and defence on a tough wicket, maintaining and a strike rate of 69.54.
The day did not start well at all for the hosts, and it appeared as if it could even be an innings loss after opener Dimuth Karunaratne fell LBW to Mitchell Starc, off just the second ball of the day. Due to a lengthy rain delay halting play at the end of day two, Starc had technically taken two wickets off three balls and was on the hunt for more wickets.
The 21-year-old hit his first century on a tricky surface others could not reach 50 on. © AFP
But Mendis and Kaushal Silva carried out a repair job for Sri Lanka with a 39-run stand for the third wicket. Mendis dominated the stand with a flurry of fours, with Silva only contributing five runs. It was much of the same during Angelo Mathews's stay at the crease, with the Sri Lankan captain scoring nine in a 41-run partnership.
But when Mathews fell at 86/4 Sri Lanka were still a long way behind in the match, and with the scores level, perhaps the most fans at Pallekele would have been hoping for was a lead of around 100 runs.
Sri Lanka then took control of the match with a huge momentum swing. Dinesh Chandimal played the senior role, while Mendis continued to attack with the occasional stroke of luck, including a plumb shout for LBW turned down when he was on 66.
Yet he marched on with an authority that bellied his mere 21 years, racing through the 90s and reaching his maiden Test century with a slog sweep off Nathan Lyon for six. A subdued celebration was all that followed, as Mendis perhaps knew his job was not quite finished.
Dinesh Chandimal gave Kusal Mendis valuable support with a patient 42. © AFP
By this stage of the post-lunch session Australia seemed flustered, and it showed after Starc dropped a relatively simple chance off the bat of Chandimal, when he was on 24. Starc dived to his right on his follow through but was unable to hang on to the top edge, as Chandimal added a further 16 runs to his score before he fell leg-before to all-rounder Mitchell Marsh.
The breakthrough was insufficient to bring Australia back into the match, as debutant Dhananjaya de Silva continued where he had left off in the first innings. Looking self-assured and at home in his maiden Test match (he had got his first runs in Tests with a six), de Silva this time scored a boundary to get off the mark.
As the day drew closer to tea, the pair accelerated the run-rate to put Sri Lanka firmly in the driving seat.
Just before early stumps was called due to poor light, Lyon became the first Australian off-spinner to claim 200 Test wickets, but for the second time in the day, there was a rather subdued celebration for what was in fact another rather spectacular milestone.
With Mendis still at the crease, Sri Lanka will look to extend their lead in the first few hours of the morning, before hoping that the spin duo of Rangana Herath and debutant Lakshan Sandakan can make devastating inroads into the Australian batting line-up.