Mendis, Madushka double-tons give Sri Lanka a chance to push for victory

Sri Lanka

Ireland 492 and 54 for 2 (Moor 19, Balbirnie 18*, Ramesh 1-17) trail Sri Lanka 704 for 3 dec (Kusal 245, Madushka 205, Mathews 100*, Hume 1-87) by 158 runs

Day four was the day in which Sri Lanka put themselves in a position to push hard for victory, in a match in which Ireland might have hoped they’d made themselves safe, with a first-innings score of 492. On day five, Ireland will start two wickets down, with 159 still to get to make Sri Lanka bat again.

As the hosts racked up a gargantuan 704 for 3 declared, giving themselves a lead of 212, major batting milestones were reached, obviously. Here are the most salient among them:

Nishan Madushka completed a maiden double-century in just his fourth Test innings. His high score in his previous three knocks was 39.

Kusal Mendis hit his own maiden double-hundred, progressing to 245 off 291 balls. He’d been out twice in the 190s before.

– Through the course of this rapid innings, Mendis also struck 11 sixes – a record for Sri Lanka, beating the eight sixes Kumar Sangakkara had hit against Bangladesh in 2014.

No batters were out before completing a hundred, though Dinesh Chandimal did retire hurt on 13 after seemingly dislocating his shoulder after diving into his crease. This was a monumental score, but not quite a historic one – Sri Lanka have once scored more for just the loss of three wickets, against Zimbabwe. And West Indies had once put on 790 for 3 against Pakistan, way back in 1958.

Having delayed the declaration to allow Mathews to get his hundred, Sri Lanka bowled 22 overs at Ireland, and claimed two wickets within them. Ramesh Mendis spun his second delivery hard, pitched it well outside off, turned it more than James McCollum expected, took the glove, and had it deflect into off stump – almost a dream offbreak to start.

Mathews then took an outstanding catch at short cover to send Peter Moor back, diving forward and to his right to pluck a leading edge up, centimetres before it hit the turf. This was off the bowling of Prabath Jayasuriya, who was spinning plenty past the bat late in the day.

At the crease at stumps were captain Andy Balbirnie, who had hit a tone-setting 95 in the first innings, and Harry Tector, who had batted nicely in the first Test. Ireland’s middle order had been excellent in the first innings. But can they do it on a fifth day surface, having toiled 151 overs in the field in the first innings? Either way, they were 54 for 2 by stumps.

All up, Sri Lanka maintained a run rate of 4.68 across the 74 overs they faced on day four. Madushka got to his 150 off the third ball of the day, then cut his next ball for four – one of his favourite scoring strokes. He and Mendis warmed up for a few overs, but by midway through the morning, Mendis had brought his ninth Test hundred up off 131 deliveries (he’d started the day on 83), and Madushka was marching towards a double.

Knowing a declaration was probably coming, even while Sri Lanka were still in arrears, Mendis warmed up for a six-hitting spree with a strike over deep midwicket, off a Ben White half-tracker. The pair largely relied on frequent runs into the outfield to keep the run-rate brisk, however. Madushka reached his double-hundred off the penultimate over of the morning session, indulging in only measured celebrations. Soon after lunch, he was lbw to Andy McBrine, who reviewed a not out decision successfully.

In Mathews’ company, Mendis started to free his shoulders, the sixes coming fast now that Sri Lanka had moved into the lead. All but one of his big hits came over deep midwicket, the only outlier sailing into the sightscreen, off the bowling of White. Mostly these were pull shots, but some were slog sweeps. All told, Mendis scored 133 of his runs in the arc between backward square leg and cow corner.

Mathews struck huge legside blows too, but early in his innings, let Mendis make the big moves. He settled into a rhythm, picked off the singles, and waited for the truly bad balls to put away. Mendis, who had twice previously fallen trying to get to his double-hundred with sixes, got to the milestone with a single behind square leg this time, off the 263rd delivery he faced. He continued to attack after that, and when he fell, Mathews picked up the scoring rate.

Sri Lanka’s only worrying moment on day four was when Chandimal dived into his crease after being turned back for an ill-advised single, and essentially failed to get up, so seriously did he appear to have hurt his shoulder. He hobbled off the field, and was not seen thereafter. Mathews raced to his century, and Sri Lanka declared.

Ireland’s bowlers just couldn’t find a way to build pressure. Andy McBrine bowled a herculean 57 overs, and had the figures of 1 for 191 to show for it. Legspinner White bowled only 37 overs, but went at almost six, and conceded 203 for no wicket. Curtis Campher conceded 101 as well, and debutant Matthew Humphreys was used only for two overs on day four.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf

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