NORTH SOUND, Antigua – Kyle Mayers earned his first Test wickets when he produced two critical strikes in as many overs to break a dangerous, record century stand, as he hauled West Indies back into the opening Test after half-centuries from Oshada Fernando and Lahiru Thirimanne threatened to put Sri Lanka in the ascendancy on Tuesday.
With Sri Lanka cruising on 170 for one, a half-hour after tea to wipe out their 102-run first-innings deficit, newly-installed captain Kraigg Brathwaite summoned Mayers, who removed Fernando for 91 with his first delivery of brisk medium pace before accounting for veteran Dinesh Chandimal for four in his very next over.
Experienced seamer Kemar Roach added the wicket of Thirimanne for 76 a few overs later as Sri Lanka lost three wickets for 19 runs in the space of 45 deliveries, before Dhananjaya de Silva stroked 46 not out and Pathum Nissanka, an unbeaten 21, to see Sri Lanka to the close on 255 for four.
Mayers finished with two for 10 from four overs while Roach has taken two for 28, leaving West Indies trailing by only 153 runs heading into Wednesday’s critical fourth day at the Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium.
“I’m happy to get my first Test wicket,” Mayers said afterwards.
“I like to be in the game – I’m that kind of person. I like to win games for my side, so bowling, batting, fielding – any part of cricket at all I can play to win the game for my side, I will do that.”
He added: “I think the wicket is a good one – it has flattened out nicely. Obviously, they had the upper hand today but the game is still evenly poised. We’re still in the game.”
Sri Lanka needed only two overs to wrap up the West Indies innings for 271 after the home side resumed the morning on 268 for eight, left-arm pacer Vishwa Fernando (2-52) bowling Rahkeem Cornwall for 60 and then hitting Shannon Gabriel in front without scoring, four balls apart in his first over.
Armed with a healthy lead, West Indies pressed home their advantage when Roach induced a false stroke from captain Dimuth Karunaratne and had the left-hander caught at third slip by John Campbell for three in the fifth over of the innings.
However, Oshada Fernando and Thirimanne then combined to frustrate West Indies in a 162-run, second-wicket stand which steered Sri Lanka safely to lunch on 67 for one and then kept the hosts wicket-less in the second session.
The partnership was Sri Lanka’s highest for the second wicket against West Indies and also the highest for the wicket at the venue.
A compact right-hander, Fernando scored steadily, carving out 11 fours off 149 deliveries to complete his second Test half-century in his eighth Test.
The left-handed Thirimanne, meanwhile, hit four fours off 201 balls to notch his second half-century of the match and the eighth of his 39th Test career.
Fernando survived a chance on 16, about 25 minutes before lunch when former captain Jason Holder spilled a straightforward chance at leg slip off off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall.
Unbeaten on 34 at lunch, he reached his fifty about half-hour afterwards with a single to cover off Cornwall while Thirimanne, on 28 at the interval, brought up his landmark in the fourth over after the drinks break with a single to square leg off Brathwaite’s occasional off-spin.
On 148 for one at tea, Sri Lanka became increasingly dominant before the introduction of Mayers turned the tide.
With his first ball, the right-armer Mayers tempted Fernando to nibble outside off and nick a catch to wicketkeeper Joshua Da Silva and followed up by removing Chandimal in identical fashion with the fifth ball of his next over.
Roach then brought back one to beat Thirimanne’s drive and bowl him comprehensively as Sri Lanka slumped to 189 for four approaching the first hour after the interval.
However, Dhananjaya countered with five fours in a 74-ball knock, putting on an invaluable 66 in an unbroken fifth-wicket stand with Nissanka, to control the final hour.
SRI LANKA 169 (Lahiru Thirimanne 70, Niroshan Dickwella 32; Jason Holder 5-27, Kemar Roach 3-47) and 255 for four (Oshada Fernando 91, Lahiru Thirimanne 76, Dhananjaya de Silva 46 not out; Kyle Mayers 2-19, Kemar Roach 2-28)
WEST INDIES 271 (Rahkeem Cornwall 61, Joshua Da Silva 46, Kyle Mayers 45, John Campbell 42, Nkrumah Bonner 31; Suranga Lakmal 5-47, Vishwa Fernando 2-52, Dushmantha Chameera 2-71)