SL spinners pull India back after openers run riot

Shikhar Dhawan and K. L. Rahul put on 188 runs for the first wicket before the middle-order falters against spinners Malinda Pushpakumara and Lakshan Sandakan.

Malinda Pushpakumara (right) celebrates with his skipper after dismissing Ajinkya Rahane cheaply.   -  AP

A solid aggressive start leading into a circumspect-phase for the remainder of Saturday defined India’s batting here at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium.

Yet the propulsion that openers Shikhar Dhawan (119, 123b, 17x4) and K. L. Rahul (85) gifted through their 188-run partnership off 239 deliveries, helped India score 329 for six in its first innings at close on the opening day of the third Test.

Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

R. Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha attempted to survive the final hour against a Sri Lankan attack that gradually found its radar. Left-arm seamer Vishwa Fernando found an ally in the new ball and scalped Ashwin with wicket-keeper Niroshan Dickwella plucking a diving catch. But Saha and Hardik Pandya prevented further breaches.

Vaas pleased with comeback with the ball

In the morning, Virat Kohli won the toss, elected to bat and found vindication in Dhawan and Rahul. The duo broke a jinx that affected India for close to two years – the absence of the 100-run alliance atop the order. The last time an Indian first-wicket pair registered a century stand, it was in June, 2015, when Murali Vijay and Dhawan stitched 283 against Bangladesh at the Fatullah Stadium.

Yadav in for Jadeja

India stepped in with Kuldeep Yadav replacing the suspended Ravindra Jadeja while Sri Lanka roped in Fernando, Lahiru Kumara and Lakshan Sandakan.

Dhawan praises Sri Lanka's spinners

Under bright sunshine and with India’s constant fan Sudhir Gautam waving the tricolour, Dhawan and Rahul placed the building blocks. Fernando swung initially and Rahul had to adjust his on-drive as a few deliveries swerved in late. Dhawan edged the same bowler for four and Rahul nearly chopped onto his stumps.

Shikhar Dhawan gestures after scoring his sixth Test century. Photo: AP

 

Once those fidgety minutes vanished, the batsmen were in fine fettle. The pressure that Fernando inflicted dissipated at the other end with Kumara guilty of either pitching it full or a touch short. Dhawan cut sharp, Rahul drove stylishly and when the speedster bounced, the hook was essayed. The runs flowed and on 28, Rahul enjoyed a reprieve as he lofted Dimuth Karunaratne and the catch eluded Kumara.

To make it worse, the moment Kumara came into bowl, Rahul and Dhawan greeted him with splendid cover-drives. Chinaman Sandakan was pressed into service and Dhawan swept with panache. The openers got their fifties and for Rahul it was his seventh consecutive half-century. India 134 for no loss at lunch and seemingly set for take-off.

Tidal shift

After the break, Rahul punched a four off Fernando and while a ton beckoned, he fell in Malinda Pushpakumara’s first over. Rahul attempted to hoist the left-arm spinner and found an agile Karunaratne. Meanwhile Dhawan cruised to his sixth Test ton with a drive past short-cover. Except the pads, he removed all his batting paraphernalia and then spread his arms and exulted.

 

Against the run of play, India encountered a testing time against the spinners. Dhawan departed as his sweep off Pushpakumara found a diving Dinesh Chandimal at square-leg. Cheteshwar Pujara, once struck on the helmet by Kumara, was too eager to subjugate spin and succumbed to Sandakan, who after a change of ends, was effective and his googly foxed the Indians. Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane braved the overs before tea and India reached 235 for three. It was a session that the host wrested as the visitor scored 101 and lost three wickets in 29 overs.

In the concluding session, Rahane missed a Pushpakumara delivery that drew the batsman out before sneaking in. It meant that from the time Rahul was dismissed, India lost four wickets for 76 runs in 26.1 overs. The next pair of Kohli and Ashwin was cautious against parsimonious spinners and the run-rate dipped below three.

After doing the hard yards, the India skipper tried an inside-out drive and Sandakan’s delivery kissed the blade and went to first slip. The tail has to now ensure that the gains made by Dhawan and Rahul, are not discarded.