1st Test Match – IND vs SL: Dhawan, Pujara flatten listless Sri Lanka


July 26, 2017

Brief Scorecard: India 399 for 3 (Dhawan 190, Pujara 144*, Pradeep 3-64) v Sri Lanka

Two years back, at the Galle International Stadium, Shikhar Dhawan braved a broken finger to conjure a patient 134 that seemed to have put India on the road to victory, until Dinesh Chandimal and Rangana Herath scuttled those designs.

July 26, 2017

Brief Scorecard: India 399 for 3 (Dhawan 190, Pujara 144*, Pradeep 3-64) v Sri Lanka

Two years back, at the Galle International Stadium, Shikhar Dhawan braved a broken finger to conjure a patient 134 that seemed to have put India on the road to victory, until Dinesh Chandimal and Rangana Herath scuttled those designs.

On his comeback to Test cricket after more than nine months on the sidelines, the left-hand opening batsman embraced a totally different approach, taking Sri Lanka apart with a sensational assault on day one of the three-Test series.

Dhawan only made the tour because M Vijay pulled out after the 16-man squad was announced, due to a troublesome wrist. He owed his place in the playing XI to an attack of viral fever that laid KL Rahul low. Making the most of the twin slices of fortune – and a third lifeline offered at second slip by a fumbling Asela Gunaratne when 31 – Dhawan produced an innings of subliminal authority on Wednesday’s (July 26) opening day of the first Test.

His extraordinary 190, off just 168 deliveries and containing 31 boundaries that peppered nearly every part of the quaint venue, rocked a Sri Lankan attack that appeared largely toothless on an excellent batting strip that is pretty much certain to change character as this Test heads deeper and deeper.

Such was the extent of his dominance that a typically polished 12th Test century from Cheteshwar Pujara had to perforce be constructed in the wake of the Dhawan mayhem. It was on the back of these twin hundreds, and their record 253-run alliance for the second wicket, that India totally dominated the first day, as evidenced by a closing tally of 399 for 3, their highest day-one total ever overseas.Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane were holding fort, their fourth-wicket stand already worth an untroubled 113 and holding the promise of many more on the second morning.

Having called wrong throughout the recent limited-overs tour of the Caribbean, Virat Kohli’s luck with the toss finally turned on Wednesday morning when he called ‘heads’, and the coin settled in his favour. The Indian skipper, who had handed over the Test cap to Hardik Pandya a half-hour earlier, instantly said ‘We’ll bat’, well aware that the surface would be at its best for batting when fresh and unused.

There was just a little bit of assistance for Nuwan Pradeep and Lahiru Kumara, the new-ball bowlers, but the latter in particular hardly made the batsmen play. It wasn’t long before Rangana Herath introduced the offspin of Dilruwan Perera, in the seventh over, and switched Pradeep from the Pavilion to the Fort End in the eighth.

The move paid instant dividends as Abhinav Mukund, also making a comeback like Dhawan, played at a delivery that shaped in from round the stumps and then straightened on pitching to follow it into the hands of Niroshan Dickwella. Should Rahul be fit for the second Test as is expected, Abhinav can safely put his India whites back in cold storage for the foreseeable future.

Pradeep, playing his first Test since January, did move the ball around a little and almost immediately caught the outside edge of Pujara’s bat, but the soft hands directed the ball into the ground and away from the slip cordon for the Saurashtra batsman’s first boundary. It was just about the only time he put a foot wrong all day, but as correct as he was, Pujara always only played second, sometimes third, fiddle to Dhawan, by now purring along smoothly.

One bizarre Kumara over later, Dhawan went from stately sedan to a turbo-charged race car. Two pulls to long-leg were followed by a beamer that elicited a warning from Richard Illingworth, and rounded off by a fullish ball that Dhawan drove at flat-footed. The ball flew off the outside edge to the left of Gunaratne, who not just made a hash of the chance but also fractured his left thumb in the process, all but playing himself out of the Test match.

Dhawan eased past his fifty with an unremarkable single and went to lunch on 64 off 78, rapid but hardly so when compared to the entertainment that was to follow in the second session. As the spin of Perera and Herath came on, he quickly started to use his feet and come down the track, driving with disdainful arrogance; when the bowlers altered their length and overcompensated by bowling short, he rocked back and cut or pulled with impunity. The sweep was a favoured weapon too as he took even deliveries well outside leg and played them on length with a ferocity that was palpable even from 100 yards away.

As Dhawan clattered along, Sri Lanka went in the opposite direction, the lack of teeth in the attack ruthlessly exposed. Forget penetration, there was not even a semblance of discipline as India flew at five an over even though Pujara was his usual unhurried self. Between lunch and tea, Dhawan alone smashed 126 off 90 deliveries with 23 fours – the most runs in the middle session of a Test for 63 years – and India amassed 167 at just a tick under six an over. It was brilliant to watch, even if the few home fans who turned up at the ground and those that looked on from the ramparts of the Galle Fort might not have shared that sentiment.

With the bowling at his mercy and a maiden double-hundred beckoning, Dhawan threw it all away, charging and driving Pradeep straight to mid-off in the final over before tea. The tall paceman, easily Sri Lanka’s most impressive bowler, then surprised Kohli in the second over on resumption with a sharp lifter that defeated his intended pull and took the edge on its way to Dickwella. Sri Lanka had both staunched the bleeding and struck quick blows, but there was too much quality in the Indian ranks for that to rattle them.

Even as Dhawan was teeing off, Pujara happily rode in his slipstream, milking the gaps and only occasionally driving forcefully when the ball was in his hitting arc. He continued in the same vein even after losing his partner in an India record second-wicket stand against Sri Lanka, inexorably grinding out his second hundred in as many Tests in this country. Such was his command at the crease that hardly a ball passed outside edge or inside; that Dhawan still walked away with all the accolades is merely on account of the audacity and range of strokes that the Delhi batsman showcased on his comeback.

Courtesy/Source: Wisden India