Sri Lankan top order diminishes West Indies’ hopes for a win

Lunch Sri Lanka 93 for 0 (Karunaratne 54*, Thirimanne 37*) and 258 (Thirimanne 55, Nissanka 51, Roach 3-58) need another 284 runs to beat West Indies 354 and 280 for 4 dec (Brathwaite 85, Holder 71*, Mayers 55, Lakmal 2-62)

Dimuth Karunaratne hit his first half-century of the series, and Lahiru Thirimanne survived one dropped catch as he continued his excellent form, as Sri Lanka’s openers went unscathed into lunch on the fifth day. The stability they have provided raised hopes of a draw, if not quite a Sri Lanka win – with the target of 377 still requiring a small miracle to get to.

Except for the very occasional ball that misbehaved, this was still a decent surface to bat on. It is perhaps too slow to allow the kind of rapid run-scoring that might see Sri Lanka threaten the target. There are footmarks to bowl into, but Sri Lanka’s left-hand openers have largely been content to leave the deliveries that land there. Neither Rahkeem Cornwall nor part-timers Jermaine Blackwood and Kraigg Brathwaite have seriously threatened. Though Cornwall came closest – one or two balls flying past the close-in fielders – thanks largely to the drift he was generating, rather than turn off the pitch.

West Indies could have had a breakthrough in the third over of the day, but although Shannon Gabriel had Thirimanne gloving a ball down the leg side, wicketkeeper Joshua Da Silva put down a fairly straightforward chance. Thirimanne, who has hit a half-century in each of his other three innings this series, was on 17 at that point.

Aside from that, both openers were largely secure, not giving up so much as a strong lbw shout. Karunaratne prospered through the leg side as West Indies’ bowlers attacked the stumps, hitting a whopping 46 of his 54 runs (85%) of his runs on that side of the ground. He was adept at shuffling to the offside, closing the face of the bat and finding space through midwicket to collect singles. Each of his seven boundaries came on the leg side. Two on-drives, off Blackwood and Holder, were especially memorable.

Thirimanne was less ambitious, hitting only two fours in the session. Perhaps the early chance had inspired a more cautious approach, but either way, he seemed content to defend plenty, and collect singles square of the wicket. He was on 37 off 99 balls by the end of the session.

West Indies were economical at least – only Gabriel and Alzarri Joseph conceding more than three an over for the innings among frontline bowlers. Brathwaite rung the changes through the course of this session; West Indies used seven bowlers in the 34 overs so far in this innings.

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