IND vs SL: Rishabh Pant sizzles in Kohli's landmark 100th Test

Rishabh Pant’s captivating innings of 96 gives India the upper hand after top-order batters fail to convert their starts.

India's Rishabh Pant celebrates after reaching half-century against Sri Lanka on day one of the Mohali Test.   -  PTI

The fall of the openers relatively early in the day, and the sumptuousness of Virat Kohli’s strokes as he sized up a tepid attack in excellent batting conditions all whetted the appetite for a special innings from the India No. 4 on a special day – it was the first day of his 100th Test match – but the day’s play at the PCA Stadium here instead turned out to be one of premature endings. Sri Lanka’s disciplined performance with the ball disallowed the top order from running away with the contest until Rishabh Pant (96, 97b, 9x4, 4x6) gave India the upper hand, punishing a tired attack in the final session of day one.

By stumps, India was 357 for 6, Ravindra Jadeja batting on 45 and R. Ashwin on 10.

READ | Ganguly: Someone of Virat's calibre will get a hundred soon

Pant adopted his usual cavalier spirit as he deployed a range of strokes to collect his runs, and he really teed off after reaching his half-century. He came down the track to Lasith Embuldeniya (2 for 107) – the left-arm spinner had lost his sting by then – for two sixes in an over that went for 22 runs. Pant had already reached his half-century, and he decided he wanted to have some fun. In the next over, bowled by Dhananjaya de Silva, he same down the pitch again to play two lofted strokes with the bottom hand away from his bat handle in his follow through. One of them was a mighty six; the ball nearly hit the media centre in the South Pavilion end. The dearth of specialist spinners was hurting Sri Lanka.

By the time he got to his 90s, he was scoring at better than a run a ball. Lakmal, however, got him before he reached his century, getting the second new ball to sneak through his defences.

The belligerence notwithstanding, the defining trait of Pant’s innings was his footwork against spin. Most times, he knew when to step back in his crease and when to attack, eventually collecting 77 of his runs off the spinners.

Virat Kohli

Virat Kohli gets off the mark in his 100th Test.   -  Sportzpics for BCCI

 

Pant’s innings turned the situation around for the team, in the company of Shreys Iyer (27, 48b, 3x4) and Jadeja after two sessions of a see-saw battle between bat and ball. None of the top-order batters made their starts count.

READ: Kohli 'immensely proud' of legacy as India captain ahead of 100th Test

Even though Kohli (45, 76b, 5x4) played some attractive drives, including one straight down the ground off Vishwa Fernando – perhaps the shot of the day – he wasn’t impeccable during his 76-minute stay at the crease. He nearly chipped a delivery from Embuldeniya back to him in the 40th over – the ball seemed to have slowed down considerably as it landed – before falling to a classic trap to the same bowler soon after. He hadn’t completed his half-century yet, and there was pin-drop silence in the stands.

8,000 Test runs for Kohli

Kohli was extremely vigilant early on after coming in to bat in the second hour. He defended and left well and made good use of loose deliveries, picking runs through the flick, the drive, the cut and even the pull shot – he was careful not to trod on to the stumps when he dragged one to square leg off the left-arm spinner. Embuldeniya, though, had been patiently plugging away, imparting flight on his deliveries and bowling full or on a good length; Kohli played back to one and paid the price for it, the ball turning past his hung bat and hitting the wicket. A promising innings had been cut short, not the first time in the day. En route, Kohli had got to his landmark of 8,000 Test runs.

At the other end, less sparkling but equally diligent was Hanuma Vihari (58, 128b, 5x4). He was off and running soon after coming in to bat, clipping one off his legs for a boundary on the fifth ball he faced. But the boundaries were few and far between as he braced himself for a hard grind. But even he departed without turning his start into a big score, falling prey to the reverse-swing obtained by Vishwa Fernando.

The reverse-swing didn’t otherwise account for much, but the fact that Sri Lanka’s bowlers had a plan was palpable. Choosing only the one specialist spinner, a lot of responsibility fell on the shoulders of Fernando, Lahiru Kumara, and the seasoned Lakmal. Lakmal (1 for 63) was perhaps the most skilful bowler on show, bowling probing lines and obtaining some seam movement off the surface after the ball stopped swinging in the first half-hour of the morning. Kumara, who was expensive, bowled fast – his deliveries sometimes touched 150 kph – and repeatedly bowled short, or short of a good length. And to an extent, it was profitable as he accounted for the dismissal of Rohit Sharma (29, 28b, 6x4) against the run of play.

Rohit threw away a good start by succumbing to the hook shot again. Kumara, bending his back, got him to play two luscious pull shots in the 10th over – the first, a lofted stroke to midwicket, and the second, along the ground off a delivery pitched a bit fuller – before inducing the fatal stroke. The stroke looked imperious, as always, and the ball would have landed in the stands with a yard or two of more power; the fielder at fine leg, however, gobbled up the offering.

As numerous times before, it was anti-climactic: it seemed Rohit’s innings had great potential, judging by the elegance of his strokes and the ease with which he was toying with the bowling. By the time he departed, India had already accumulated 52 runs, many of which were contributed by the enterprising Mayank Agarwal. Agarwal, unlike his opening partner, wasn’t so much in control, and on occasion found himself squared up and beaten on the outside edge. He eventually succumbed to the arm ball from Embuldeniya. After having negotiated a good spell with the new ball from Lakmal, both openers had fallen.

It set the stage for the Kohli, the man of the moment, and Vihari to build a partnership marked by caution and the occasional sweetly-timed stroke for four. Both entertained, but not for long enough. It took a middle-order resistance and a special innings from Pant to make it India’s day.

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