India on top after serene hundreds from Pujara, Rahane

The middle-order batsmen add 211 in an unfinished fourth-wicket partnership on Day One of the second Test in Colombo.

Cheteshwar Pujara (right) and Ajinkya Rahane dismantled the Sri Lankan attack in their gentle ways.   -  AP

There is a synergy between Cheteshwar Pujara and the Sinhalese Sports Club. He feels at ease in this venue, akin to his home ground in Rajkot. The middle-order batsman also shares a few attributes with Ajinkya Rahane. Both are self-effacing, have a quiet hunger for runs and they are not yet the poster-boys for endorsements, be it fast cars or fizzy drinks.

Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

In the 2015 Test here, Pujara scored an unbeaten 145 to set the base for an Indian triumph. Nearly two years later, he was at it again with another hundred (128 batting, 225b, 10x4, 1x6) leaving Virat Kohli’s men in a dominant state against Sri Lanka here on Thursday.

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Pujara found an excellent ally in fellow-centurion Rahane (103 batting, 168b, 12x4). They added 211 runs in an unfinished fourth-wicket partnership and helped India score 344 for three in its first innings at close on the opening day of the second Test.

Decisive in his foot-work and adept in unsettling spinners, be it striding forward or rocking back, Pujara scrambled the trajectory of the slow bowlers. It was a method that Rahane too used to good effect.

Trial by spin

Much before Pujara and Rahane bruised the host attack, an approach that was more feather-touch than the sledge-hammer, Kohli won the toss and opted to bat. Confirming its expectation of a slow pitch, Sri Lanka stepped in with just one seamer Nuwan Pradeep, who opened the bowling with left-arm spinner Rangana Herath.

Opener Shikhar Dhawan kept both bowlers interested, edging through the slips. After those nervous bouts, the southpaw dished out a cameo and watched fellow-opener K. L. Rahul survive an lbw appeal on 19, thanks to a successful review. Back after a four-month break due to fitness issues, Rahul (57) square-drove and flicked Herath and Pradeep respectively but his 56-run first-wicket partnership with Dhawan ended when the latter fell on the sweep to off-spinner Dilruwan Perera.

At 10.50 a.m., Pujara, appearing in his 50th Test, cast a sideways glance at the sun and entered. He endured an anxious moment as he edged Perera but the ball raced past Angelo Mathews at first slip. Rahul then offered a rude welcome to Malinda Pushpakumara, lofting and pulling the debutant left-arm spinner. Pushpakumara’s maiden Test was also his 100th first-class game but he neither found respect nor respite. Rahul got to his sixth consecutive fifty in Tests, and India had an appetising lunch score of 101 for one.

Sri Lanka’s false dawn

In the afternoon, India suffered a testing phase but it was transitory like the dark clouds which wafted across the sky at 2.11 p.m. Rahul cut Herath, set off for a single and got run-out as a hesitant Pujara back-pedalled. Next-man Kohli threaded immaculate fours, then tried to cut Herath to a delivery that offered no width and Mathews took a fine catch at slip.

India was at its tipping point - 133 for three, but alarms were quelled as Pujara and Rahane built a fine path. They found their starters in fours off Perera, and Pujara eased past 4,000 Test runs. Except once when on 41, he edged Perera past slip, Pujara’s was a sedate presence. His calmness found a mirror-image in Rahane.

The duo displayed its batting repertoire on either side of the pitch. Pujara pulled Pushpakumara for six, cut Herath with precision and Rahane danced down and lofted Perera. At tea, India had 238 for three in 58 overs and the last session augmented that total.

When Pujara got to his 13th Test hundred, he and Rahane punched the air as they ran between the wickets. Their shared joy was spontaneous and once the new ball was taken after 80 overs, Rahane reached his ninth Test hundred. Coming as it did after a barren spell of 17 innings, Rahane’s relief was palpable. He kept staring at the skies, thanking his gods and everything was fine in India’s batting paradise.

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