Sri Lanka hit back after Dhawan-Rahul stand


Tea India 235 for 3 (Kohli 11*, Rahane 3*, Pushpakumara 2-19) v Sri Lanka
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Dasgupta: Sri Lanka showed good intensity in the field

Three quick wickets stalled India’s momentum somewhat after a 188-run opening partnership between Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul had led them to a commanding position at the halfway point of the first day in Pallekele. Both openers fell to aggressive shots against Malinda Pushpakumara, before Lakshan Sandakan dismissed Cheteshwar Pujara, Sri Lanka’s scourge through this series, to bring some sense of parity to the day’s play.

At tea, India were 235 for 3, with Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane at the crease having seen out a six-over period of probing left-arm bowling from Sandakan and Vishwa Fernando.

Until then, Sri Lanka had struggled to exert pressure from both ends. The openers had scored their runs at 4.75 per over, with Dhawan, who brought up his second hundred of the tour, going at close to a run a ball, capitalising on the smallest sign of width from the quicks and using his feet superbly against spin.

Rahul made his seventh successive 50-plus score in Test matches, becoming the joint record-holder alongside Everton Weekes, Andy Flower, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Kumar Sangakkara and Chris Rogers. As was the case with most of the previous six innings, he looked good for a century before getting out to an aggressive shot, against the run of play.

Batting was expected to be at its easiest on the first day, with the pitch looking dry beneath an even but not extravagant cover of grass. Virat Kohli, who won his third successive toss, chose to bat again, and Sri Lanka made life easy for his batsmen by failing to make use of the new ball.

Fernando, the left-arm quick, bowled reasonably well in only his second Test match, pushing close to 90mph, getting some swing, and finding Dhawan’s outside edge in his second over, the ball not quite carrying as third slip dived in front of second. Lahiru Kumara, however, leaked runs, pitching persistently short, feeding Dhawan’s cut and Rahul’s pull.

Kumara went out of the attack after bowling just three overs and conceding 26. In his place came Dimuth Karunaratne, who, having dismissed Cheteshwar Pujara in Colombo, now began to trouble Rahul with his wobble and lack of pace. He beat his outside edge once, then clipped it – the batsman playing with soft hands to ensure it didn’t carry to the slip cordon – and then caused an attempted flick to balloon high over mid-on. Kumara, running back and watching the ball over his shoulder, got his hand to the ball on the dive, but couldn’t hold on.

That chance, in the 12th over, would be the last of the session. Leading the spin attack in Rangana Herath’s absence, Dilruwan Perera wasn’t allowed to settle, Dhawan dancing down the track in only his second over to loft him over mid-off. Rattled, the offspinner dropped short a couple of balls later and Dhawan pulled him for another four.

A return to the attack with a slightly older ball made no difference to Kumara’s fortunes – he went too full, rather than too short, in his first over back, and both Rahul and Dhawan drove him for fours. By the 20th over, both batsmen had brought up their fifties.

India ended the first session on a dominant note – Rahul cutting and driving Perera for two fours in the last over before lunch – and continued in that vein after the break, with both batsmen finding the cover boundary off Fernando with drives on the up against good-length balls. Then, Dhawan brought out the sweep that had served him so well in Galle, hitting Sandakan square and fine.

Aside from a top-edged cut from Rahul off Sandakan, which flew to the left of Angelo Mathews at slip, there was little sign of a wicket arriving, but the belated introduction of Pushpakumara – in the 40th over – provoked a mistake from Rahul, who failed to gain elevation after skipping out of his crease and picked out mid-on.

Dhawan, who had just reached his hundred by stepping out and driving Pushpakumara inside-out for four, fell to the sweep, hitting hard but in the air, to the left of Dinesh Chandimal, who completed an excellent diving catch. Then, Pujara, having moved to 8 off 32, was deceived by Sandakan’s trajectory, going back to a quicker, flatter one that wasn’t short enough to cut. With that, India had lost three wickets for 41 runs, in 10.4 overs.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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