Pujara, Dhawan put India in driver's seat on Day One

The southpaw’s superb effort and his 253-run second-wicket partnership off 280 balls, with fellow-centurion Cheteshwar Pujara (144 batting, 246b, 12x4), set India on a strong base in the first Test that commenced here on Wednesday.

The opener’s 190 (168b, 31x4), his fifth Test ton, was a walk in the park, when compared to his relatively workman-like 134 off 271 deliveries here in 2015.   -  AP

Shikhar Dhawan feels at home in the Galle International Stadium. His second hundred at the venue, exhibited fluidity much like the festooned kite flown by a tourist from the nearby fort.

The opener’s 190 (168b, 31x4), his fifth Test ton, was a walk in the park, when compared to his relatively workman-like 134 off 271 deliveries here in 2015. A placid pitch, a largely pedestrian Sri Lankan attack and a slice of luck when he was dropped on 31, by Asela Gunaratne at second slip after the batsman edged Lahiru Kumara, meant that Dhawan could not be denied his moment under the sun.

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The southpaw’s superb effort and his 253-run second-wicket partnership off 280 balls, with fellow-centurion Cheteshwar Pujara (144 batting, 246b, 12x4), set India on a strong base in the first Test that commenced here on Wednesday.

At close on the opening day, Virat Kohli’s men posted 399 for three in their first innings with Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane (39 batting) staying firm in an unfinished 113-run fourth-wicket partnership.

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Dhawan missed a double century, that was his to own. A tired shot off seamer Nuwan Pradeep, found Angelo Mathews at mid-off. But Dhawan had done enough for India to believe that it held the reins of the contest. He stayed busy right from the moment the morning drizzle stopped and play started on time after Hardik Pandya got his debut cap and Kohli won the toss and elected to bat. Dhawan’s opening partner Abhinav Mukund, though, offered a half-stride and a tentative bat to Pradeep.

Pujara walked in with his winnowing steps, just as some fans trudged into the grass-banks that split the ground from the adjoining road and the sea. He threatened twice to get dismissed, racing from the non-striker’s end when Dhawan’s cuts against off-spinner Dilruwan Perera, died in a packed cordon. Sri Lanka captain Rangana Herath placed a 6-3 field, and Pujara retreated just in time.

Dhawan and Pujara did a few glove-punches, spoke a bit and settled into their steady alliance. Dhawan drove, flicked and cut Pradeep, Kumara and Perera. When Herath stepped in from the 19 over, Dhawan often danced down the track and unsettled the left-arm spinner. Pujara steered and on-drove the fast bowlers and his pull off Perera, fusing sharp footwork and precise timing.

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There was an attempt to lure Dhawan into a top-edged hook. Pradeep and Kumara banged in shot while two men manned the fence between square-leg and fine-leg. The opener rolled his wrists and kept his hooks down and with the calm Pujara for company, he stayed in a rarefied zone. India, clocking four runs per over, etched 115 for one at lunch.

The second session was more fruitful, yielding 167 for one from 28 overs and in this, Dhawan’s contribution was 126. It wasn’t entirely smooth as he had to constantly alert the groundstaff about covering an advertisement within the sight-screen and the outfield remained sluggish.

 

Yet, nothing could stymie his effervescence and with a swept four off Perera, the hundred was his. The signature celebration followed - helmet off, arms stretched wide, and a swish of the bat.

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Pujara, living in the shadows, found his luminescence, cover driving Kumara to reach his fifty. Dhawan meanwhile remained impetuous, scooping a four off Herath and essaying a pick-up shot over fine-leg off  Kumara. Just before tea, Dhawan perished and immediately in the last session, Kohli fell on the hook, feathering to the wicket-keeper and Sri Lanka found its review vindicated.

At 286 for three, India had to guard against complacence and in Pujara and Rahane, it had the right men. Pujara owned the day’s last session, his cover drives oozing elegance. His 12th Test hundred was an exposition of his one significant trait – solidity.

If Dhawan batted on familiar terrain, Pujara’s tenure was all about making a mark in his first batting stint at Galle. He missed the game here in 2015. Together, the duo, a blend of fire and ice, ensured that India will influence the match’s remaining rhythms.

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