Mendis and Dhananjaya battle adversity to keep Sri Lanka afloat

Bangladesh v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Chittagong, 1st day February 01, 2018

Bangladesh taking an early wicket in a home Test has meant, at least in the last 15 months, a couple more following quickly. England and Australia found themselves in trouble early as reputable batsmen were riddled with self-doubt at the first sign of a slightly turning ball, close-in fielders and big appeals.

When Dimuth Karunaratne fell to Mehidy Hasan in the third over with his side yet to open their account, the home side may have thought of an impending collapse. Judging by the bowling changes and field settings, it was clear that they expected Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva to be roadkill on their way to taking the upper hand in the first Test.

But these two Sri Lanka batsmen didn't take a step back or let the close-in fielders or bowling changes get to them. Mendis and Dhananjaya got down to business rather quickly, and turned the tide in their favour (or as cricketers like to say, shifted the momentum). Dhananjaya finished the day unbeaten on 104, his fourth Test century, and his second successive three-figure score. The pair added 187 runs for the unbroken second wicket, leading a fine recovery from a tough start.

By the tea break, Dhananjaya had struck seven fours in his 37, which came off 42 balls. He ended the day's second session by clattering Taijul Islam, Bangladesh's most senior spinner in the absence of Shakib Al Hasan, for three fours in an over, two straight and one over cover. Mendis still wasn't in the groove at this stage, having made 13 off 39 balls. He had survived a dropped catch when Mehidy put down an easy chance at second slip when Mendis was on four.

This was a scrappy innings from Mendis, having been dropped on 57 too when Imrul couldn't grab the edge off Mehidy in the 31st over. He survived three reviews taken by Bangladesh amid plenty of plays and misses against the left-arm spinners. But survive he did, not letting these incidents affect his batting in any way. He just let them pass with a toothy grin, and moved on to the next ball.

Mendis struck six fours and a pulled six in his unbeaten 83 off 152 balls, which would be a huge sigh of relief for a batsman returning to the team after sitting out the tour to India. His return to the side didn't start off well in the tri-series, making just 73 runs in four innings.

Dhananjaya meanwhile was sailing smoothly to a fourth Test century. He reached his fifty off 65 balls before hitting five boundaries in the next two overs. Although one of them streaked past the slip cordon, he sweetly timed the other two through point and extra cover. Dhananjaya took nearly the same number of balls to reach his next 50, which gave him consecutive hundreds in Tests. In the previous game in Delhi, his unbeaten 119 was a match-saving effort, compiled while battling breathing problems and a glute injury.

Mendis and Dhananjaya got their international breakthrough around 18 months ago when they battered the Australians during a 3-0 home series win. Dhananjaya was the highest scorer in that Test series - his first - having made 325 runs at an average of 65. But he started to lose that form in South Africa last year, ending up with him losing his place in subsequent series against Bangladesh and India.

The Delhi hundred marked his return to the Sri Lanka Test fold, but he would be keen to use this innings in Chittagong as a more solid footing to get his career back on track. He looks the more upright of the two batsmen, sometimes looking similar to Upul Tharanga in his uncomplicated ways.

Not that Mendis looks complicated in his technique or batting style, but it hasn't been straightforward for him of late. He had two lowly series against Zimbabwe and South Africa before making 194 against Bangladesh last year. But after a poor series against Pakistan in the UAE where he made 58 runs in four innings, Mendis lost his place through the India tour.

Like Dhananjaya, he too would love to get to the three-figure mark on the third morning, and build from this performance. And with the pitch in Chittagong getting spicier by the session, two batsmen with runs behind them would be crucial for Sri Lanka, who are still 326 runs adrift. The first two sessions on the third day will really be a test of determination for de Silva and Mendis.

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