India vs Sri Lanka: Pujara holds fort as Shanaka claims two

Cheteshwar Pujara scored a patient unbeaten 102-ball 47 on a rain-marred second day of the first Test against Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens, as Dasun Shanaka claimed two wickets to leave India struggling at 74/5.

Cheteshwar Pujara plays a shot during the second day of the first Test between India and Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens on Friday.   -  K. R. Deepak

Cheteshwar Pujara’s technique and spirit shone bright on another dark, wet and probing day here on Friday. Under a cloud cover and on a green pitch with moisture where the ball swung, seamed and bounced, the right-hander was focussed and skillful. 

READ: India’s fielding coach lauds Cheteshwar Pujara

When the conditions get tough, Pujara’s bat does the talking. On a truncated second day of the first Test at the Eden Gardens – only 21 overs in 105 minutes could be sent down – the 29-year-old batsman was unbeaten on an 102-ball 47. These runs were worth a lot more.

Ball by ball details

During this phase of play in the morning before rain ended the proceedings for the day at 11 a.m., the Sri Lankan pacemen made further inroads. India was struggling at 74 for five with only Pujara offering resistance. 

In the first two days so far, just 165 minutes of play and 32.5 overs have been possible. Yet, given the nature of this pitch, a result other than a draw is a possibility if the weather improves as the forecast says.

Pujara holds fort

Pujara concentrated hard. On a similar surface at the SSC against the same opposition in 2015, Pujara’s 145 – he carried his bat in the process – proved a series-clinching effort.   

He was impressive here, his county stint with Nottinghamshire keeping him mentally tuned to the conditions. Covering his off-stump, Pujara left deliveries that shaped away. The right-hander played close to his body and drove in the ‘V’. An off-drive  off Lahiru Gamage screamed for attention.

Crucially, he was sound off his back foot. Pujara waited for the ball to come to him and played with soft hands. His footwork was measured; there was hardly any exaggerated movement of the feet that could be disastrous on a seaming pitch.

READ: Rain prevents fans from flocking to the iconic Eden Gardens

Pujara may not be the most flamboyant of batsmen but is most certainly balanced. The even distribution of body weight, such a critical aspect of batsmanship, is intertwined with his footwork.

There were occasions when he was beaten; unavoidable on a pitch where Lakmal was angling the ball into the right-hander and then it moving away, but Pujara did not allow these deliveries to work on his mind.

Lakmal continues to impress

Lakmal was on the ball again. While he was attacking with his length, the Sri Lankan also displayed laudable control over length and direction. So accurate was Lakmal that he bowled 46 dot balls in succession – the first time such a feat has been achieved in Tests since 2011.

When he finished his first spell – spread over two days – Lakmal’s figures read 11-9-5-3. The pace spearhead, both, contained and struck. Lakmal consistently took the ball away, while bringing the odd delivery in.

ALSO READ: Lakmal leaves India in tatters as rain restricts play

While Lakmal continued to impress, it was the 26-year-old Dasun Shanaka who picked both wickets that fell in the day. Shanaka’s selection for the Test was surprising since the much quicker Vishwa Fernando also brought with him the left-armer’s angle.   

Shanaka’s action is rather sling-armish. He is just about medium pace but does pitch the ball up and gets it to swing. The paceman drew Ajinkya Rahane into a fatal drive and found the edge with away deviation. Rahane’s footwork and downswing of the willow did not move in harmony.

Some of Shanaka’s deliveries in the corridor held their line, which was a variation in itself since many others swung away in a rather pronounced manner. He did not quite send the delivery that nipped back but did go wide off the crease and angled the ball into the right-hander.

Shanaka took out R. Ashwin too, who, batting at No. 6, wasted an opportunity to underline his ability in these conditions. Ashwin had the credentials to bat on this pitch but ended up slicing a length delivery from Shanaka into backward point’s hands.

This was not a surface where a batsman could play on the up.

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