At stumps on day three in Antigua, the first Test between the West Indies and Sri Lanka is delicately poised. Sri Lanka finished the day at 255/4, leading by 153 with Dhananjaya de Silva (46*) and Pathum Nissanka (21*) both well set.
With the West Indies going into the day with two wickets in hand and a 99-run lead, Sri Lanka needed a fast start with the ball and Vishwa Fernando (2/52) provided them with just that.
Fernando struck twice in the second over of the day to end the West Indies’ first innings at 271 all out as the hosts only managed to add a further three runs to their overnight tally.
The seamer swung one in brilliantly to cut Rakheem Cornwall in half, bowling him through the gate for 61. Three balls later, he wrapped up the innings with another picture-perfect inswinger, trapping Shannon Gabriel in front for a duck with a yorker.
While the tourists had managed to limit the damage on day three, they still went into the second innings firmly behind in the game, trailing by 102 runs.
And Sri Lankan fans would have feared the worst when Kemar Roach (2/28) dismissed Dimuth Karunaratne in just the fifth over. With Roach pounding away on a line just outside off stump, Karunaratne (3) was coaxed into a drive by a delivery a fraction wider on a good length, edging to third slip.
The dismissal left Sri Lanka rocking at 8/1, still 93 runs behind, and up against an attack brimming with confidence that had knocked them over for 169 in their first innings.
In the first innings, Lahiru Thirimanne had scored a gritty 70 but had to watch on as wickets fell at regular intervals. This time around he found a reliable partner in Oshada Fernando.
The pair set in for the long haul, steadying the shaky start to reach lunch at 67/1. After the interval, Sri Lanka managed something that hadn’t been seen from either side this Test yet – they went the entire session without losing a wicket as both Thirimanne and Fernando raised half-centuries.
There was one scare however, as Fernando was given out caught behind for 46 off the bowling of Jason Holder (0/22) in the 28th over. The right-hander was quick to review it and the on-field decision was duly overturned as the ball had come off pad rather than bat.
He soon notched his second Test half-century, passing the milestone in just 84 balls, showing restraint throughout but picking up runs whenever they were on offer. The hundred-run stand was shortly brought up, coming in 206 balls via a driven four from Thirimanne.
With Fernando playing with a shade more aggression, Thirimanne kept things ticking over at the other end, reaching a patient half-century off 123 deliveries.
By tea, Sri Lanka were threatening to take control of the game, leading by 46 runs with nine wickets in hand. They were cruising at 170/1 in the final session with Fernando eying the second Test century of his career.
The introduction of Kyle Mayer’s medium-pacers put those hopes to bed. The batting all-rounder produced a gem to remove Fernando, nipping a full ball away from off-stump to take Fernando’s outside edge for 91.
It was Mayers’ first wicket in Test cricket and his second came in his next over, dismissing Dinesh Chandimal (4) in identical fashion to Fernando. Five overs later, Roach sent Thirimanne’s off stump cartwheeling, castling the opener for 76.
From 170/1, Sri Lanka had slipped to 189/4 with a lead of just 88. Things nearly got worse for Karunaratne’s side from there as debutant Nissanka almost ran out partner Dhananjaya before Sri Lanka had passed 200. Stuck on nought for the first 20 deliveries of his innings, the rookie called his senior partner through for a single after playing the ball straight to Kraigg Brathwaite at cover. A direct hit would have been the end for Dhananjaya. Fortunately for Sri Lanka, the West Indies captain was off target.
As it turned out, that was the final chance the West Indies produced for the day as Dhananjaya and Nissanka put on an unbeaten 66-run stand. Nissanka was the more cautious of the two, reaching stumps on 21 off 74 with his lone boundary coming via a sumptuous cut shot against Alzarri Joseph.
Dhananjaya, busy throughout, will return to the crease on day four in touching distance of a half-century, unbeaten on 46 off 74. The all-rounder helped himself to five boundaries on day three, impressing against pace and spin. He looked in good touch from the moment he pulled Joseph forward of square for four, and went on to show impressive footwork to clip Cornwall (0/85) through mid-wicket for four, splitting a 7-2 legside field.
With a cut shot for four off Brathwaite (0/24), Dhananjaya took the stand past 50 and the West Indies will know they need to find a way past him to reclaim the ascendancy in this Test.