Sri Lanka's fix-it men left to do the job again
Having had a rough time in South Africa, Sri Lanka thought they were coming back to the comforts of home, to play a team they have nearly always crushed.
They had endured Newlands' seam movement, suffered on a hard Port Elizabeth pitch, and been lavishly flogged at the Bullring, but oh, at last, the sweaty embrace of Mother Lanka. See how her tawny tracks gleam a glorious amber at sunset. Doesn't the dust that rise from her surfaces bring a tear to the eye? And her curators, oh, such curators - so friendly and helpful the mere sight of them makes you want to leap into their arms and weep. After the mean groundstaff in South Africa, these men will know how to treat you right. They will whisper reassuringly in your ear. You're in safe hands now. Everything is going to be alright.
The thing with coming home, though, is that things aren't always in perfect order. Maybe the water coming out of the tap is a curious brown. At times, sparks will fly out of the power sockets. Occasionally you'll discover that entire generations of rodents have lived, loved and died in some corner of the kitchen. On Saturday Sri Lanka's batsmen were faced - for the first time in the series - with problems that required prompt solving, but they proved to be the kinds of homeowners that will flee quickly to the nearest hotel, and call in folks who are willing to get their hands dirty. Apart from Dimuth Karunaratne, they chose to pass the job to Sri Lanka's bowlers.
Bangladesh's attack was always going to test Sri Lanka at some point. Mustafizur Rahman picked this day, and a clever strategy after lunch, loping impishly in from around the wicket at the right-handers, sending some balls straight, slyly seaming others away. Kusal Mendis might have been unlucky to have a not out decision overturned, but chances are he sent a thin edge to the keeper (Karunaratne basically admitted as much at the end of the day). Dinesh Chandimal reached out to drive the bowler soon after, and was out in similar fashion. Dhananjaya de Silva got the best ball of the three, but didn't himself have to offer a shot. When Asela Gunaratne and Niroshan Dickwella fell at the other end, Sri Lanka had lost five top-order wickets for 47, and Sri Lanka's tail-end handymen, who hail not from Colombo or Kandy, but from places like Waduwawa and Debarawewa, were called on to come up with a solution.
Even Karunaratne - the one top order batsman who didn't balk at Saturday's difficulties - seemed confused by some situations. Karunaratne has recently been the sultan of the soft dismissal, poking balls to short cover, slapping them to point, almost always seemingly in a race to the dressing room with his fellow opener. Today he made it to the middle of the innings, and so unfamiliar was he with a reality in which he was the last recognised batsman - and the innings' prized scalp - that he was befuddled as to how he should react. Where just after lunch, he had scored at close to a run-a-ball in the company of Kusal Mendis, Karunaratne managed only 10 off the last 38 deliveries he faced before tea. At one stage he seemed to want to shield Dilruwan Perera - a half-centurion from the previous Test - from the strike. It brought to mind tribesmen from isolated Amazon settlements, who have only seen the jungle all their lives, and are awestruck when they see anything as advanced as a bullock cart, or a building taller than a tree.
He had, though, batted beautifully in the first three hours of the day, and Sri Lanka have him to thank for their slim lead in the match. His celebrations at reaching a fifth Test hundred were decidedly muted - the helmet stayed on. "Honestly, I was so focused that I didn't realize that my hundred had come," Karunaratne said. "I wanted to stay not out and put pressure on Bangladesh. I wanted to stay not out till stumps. I was disappointed when I was dismissed."
His exit left the job squarely in the hands of Sri Lanka's fix-it men, who over the course of the last year, have cleaned up many a top-order mess. If Sri Lanka are to escape in this Test, Rangana Herath will need his toolkit again on Sunday. Suranga Lakmal and Dilruwan Perera will need to step out of their trucks ready for action, with sleeves rolled up.
This has been a theme of Sri Lanka's Test cricket in the last three years: pampered batsmen have long stretches in the team and are endlessly cared for by coaches, even through spells of poor form. The bowlers who have to contend with terrible fielding, weird captaincy, injuries, and still often find their places under threat, wind up having to do most of the work.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando