New Delhi: India hurtled towards their ninth successive series victory as they left Sri Lanka precariously placed at 31 for three and staring at another humiliation in the third and final Test here today.

The visiting Lankans were set an improbable victory target of 410 to level the three-match series. It will be a miracle if Sri Lanka manage to make it.

The 16 overs that they batted during the final 85 minutes of the fourth day's play was with an aim to survive rather than play positive cricket. If the scoreboard is anything to go by, the ploy boomeranged on the visitors, who were again seen wearing anti-pollution masks, the second time in the game. The pitch has not deteriorated much but it is the straighter deliveries from the spinners that is causing maximum damage.

Mohammed Shami (1/8 in 3 overs), who was unwell after a three-over burst, bowled a hostile spell and accounted for Sadeera Samarawickrama (5).

A barrage of short deliveries unnerved the opener, who was hit on the temple while fielding in India's first innings. Shami played on his psyche with well-disguised bouncers into his body – one such he fended awkwardly and offered a simple catch to Ajinkya Rahane in the slips. The ever-accurate Ravindra Jadeja (5-2-5-2) had Dimuth Karunaratne caught behind, giving Wriddhiman Saha his fifth catch of the match. The decision to send Suranga Lakmal (0) as nighwatchman backfired as he played on while trying a forward defensive prod.

Skipper Virat Kohli (50 off 58 balls), Rohit Sharma (50 off 49 balls) and Shikhar Dhawan (67 off 91 balls) made useful contributions as India declared at 246 for five, with an overall lead of 409 runs. With a cushion of 163-run first innings lead, the Indian batsmen showed intent to score quick runs, scoring at a rate of 4.70 in the 52.2 overs they batted in the second innings. It was a 77-run stand in 17.2 overs for the third wicket between Cheteshwar Pujara (49 off 66 balls) and Dhawan in the post lunch session that set the platform for Kohli and Rohit to accelerate in the final session.

The Indian skipper and his limited overs deputy added 90 runs in only 15.2 overs. Kohli had only three fours but ran brilliantly between the wickets along with Rohit, who, among his five boundaries, had a gorgeous pull-shot to his credit. The moment he reached his sixth consecutive half-century in Tests, Kohli signaled for a declaration.

It was Pujara, whose uncharacteristic batting set the tone for India in the second innings. The Saurashtra batsman was even more attacking than Dhawan, whose innings had five fours and a six down the ground off chinaman Lakshan Sandakan. The two batsmen were especially severe on off-spinner Perera. Whenever he dropped it short, the batsman hit him on either side of the wicket. If he tried to give flight, they stepped out and maneuvered it for singles and doubles. Pujara was finally dismissed when Dananjaya de Silva got one to drift and straighten, taking the outside edge to land into Angelo Mathews' safe pair of hands. He was unhappy to have returned
just a run short of another well-deserved half-century.

Dhawan completed his half century off 82 balls, taking a single off Sandakan. He was dismissed by the chinaman when he tried to loft him for his second six, stumped by Dickwella. What stood out like a sore thumb was another failure from Ajinkya Rahane, whose woeful run continued. Kohli promoted Rahane (10) to give him enough time to settle down and bat his way out of form. However, desperation to hit his way out of trouble brought about Rahane's downfall. He stepped out to Dilruwan Perera and the lofted shot found Lakshan Sandakan at the long-on boundary.

It came after Vijay (9) had played a lazy shot away from the body of Suranga Lakmal to give a catch to Niroshan Dickwella behind the stumps. Earlier, courtesy skipper Dinesh Chandimal's career-best 164, Sri Lanka scored 373 in their first essay, conceding a 163-run lead to the hosts. Ishant Sharma (3/98) got Chandimal to wrap up the Lankan innings. The Sri Lankan players once again wore anti-pollution masks from the start of the Indian second innings due to the prevailing pollution in the national capital. Lakmal, in fact, threw up a couple of times while fielding at the third man area and the groundsmen had to put sand.

For a change, the Sri Lankan players were wearing N95 anti-pollution masks, required to protect the lungs from the"very poor" air quality in Delhi. PTI