IND vs SL – 2nd Test Match: India in the box seat after Pujara, Rahane tons

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August 3, 2017

Brief Scorecard: Stumps India 344 for 3 (Pujara 128*, Rahane 103*) v Sri Lanka

Ajinkya Rahane celebrates after scoring his ninth century in test cricket, Sinhalese Sports Club Ground, Colombo

August 3, 2017

Brief Scorecard: Stumps India 344 for 3 (Pujara 128*, Rahane 103*) v Sri Lanka

Ajinkya Rahane celebrates after scoring his ninth century in test cricket, Sinhalese Sports Club Ground, Colombo

COLOMBO,SRI LANKA – The game had just drifted into the final hour when a bunch of school kids, dwarfed by the big chairs engulfing them, their uniforms merging into the white background, constantly chanted ‘Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka’. The public address system blared out little stanzas from ‘baila Chakravarthy’ MS Fernando’s composition. Perhaps, the kids and the PA operator both realised that Sri Lanka needed a little bit of inspiration to turn things around on day one of the second Test at the SSC ground.

Cheteshwar Pujara, of course, has never needed any motivation to score runs, no matter the team, no matter the opposition, no matter the conditions, no matter the level of cricket. But given the occasion, he must have felt energised; the second Indian to earn a 50th Test cap on this tour, the No. 3 batsman made Thursday (August 3) his very own with a most polished 13th hundred, his second in as many Tests this series meaning that he now has a three-figure score in each of his three Test appearances in Sri Lanka.

In Ajinkya Rahane, Pujara might almost be looking at a cricketing soulmate. Both classical and upright, they drove Sri Lanka to their knees with a commanding display of controlled aggression to catapult India to the box seat. Having come together with India on a slightly wobbly 133 for 3 some three-quarters of an hour into the second session, they had both brought up their hundreds and put on 211 to muscle India to 344 for 3 when the umpires plucked the bails off. If that sounds like it was one-way traffic for more than most of the day, it’s because that’s precisely what it was.

Much interest had centred around how the 22-yard strip would play, particularly given the great lengths the ground staff went to on Wednesday morning to snip away every blade of grass. Largely bare and somewhat dry if far from crumbly yet, the track did offer the three-pronged Sri Lankan spin attack some degree of assistance, but their lack of consistency and Pujara and Rahane’s brilliant footwork allowed India to effortlessly kick on in their bid to post a decisive first-innings total.

Having lost all six tosses in the Caribbean recently, Virat Kohli’s call of ‘heads’ proved enough for the second game on the bounce for India to make use of what ought to be the best batting conditions of the Test. KL Rahul took his rightful place at the top of the Indian order alongside Shikhar Dhawan, and was understandably tetchy to start with, but once he spent a little time in the middle, he started flowing like a river in spate. Dhawan, fresh off his marauding 190 in Galle, began as if he was having a net, taking the attack to Nuwan Pradeep and Rangana Herath – operating with the new ball as Sri Lanka only played the one paceman.

Both of them found the edge of his bat once each in the first couple of overs but neither of the nicks went to hand. Emboldened by the near misses, Dhawan upped his aggression freedom until trying to sweep Dilruwan Perera’s first ball of the game, and being adjudged lbw on review.

That was inside the first hour, and brought Pujara to the middle after India’s first half-century stand against Sri Lanka in seven years. Pujara immediately settled in beautifully, the ball smacking the middle of his bat even in defence making a resounding noise magnified by the disappointingly empty stands and grass banks. By now, Rahul had shed residual nerves; he showcased intent by using his feet excellently either in dancing down the track or going deep inside the crease, and played the sweep as much off line as length with characteristic élan to provide no indication that this was his first real competitive game in four months.

Dinesh Chandimal employed all his frontline bowlers, including Malinda Pushpakumara, the debutant left-arm spinner, inside the first 14 overs, but with little success. Pujara sat back and allowed Rahul to dominate the second-wicket stand of 53, his contribution just 17 in 65 deliveries.

Pujara turned his back on a hapless Rahul in the third over after lunch, leaving his partner for dead with his start-stop routine. Rahul had looked good for more than 57, but had to settle for a sixth straight half-century in Tests. That he had joined illustrious fellow Bangaloreans Gundappa Viswanath and Rahul Dravid in that club would have hardly mattered to him as he went off, fuming.

Kohli struck a couple of handsome drives until being undone by lack of footwork as he tried to half-cut, half-drive a fullish Herath ball from his crease. The resultant outside edge was brilliantly snapped up wide to his right by Angelo Mathews, Sri Lanka buoyed by the twin strikes 32 minutes apart that left the game in the balance.

Rahane quickly dispelled whatever potential queasiness there might have been in the dressing-room with a brilliant exhibition of use of feet. Light on his toes and looking to get down the track at the first hint of flight, he seldom got into a tangle. His driving was a veritable feast, and infectious enough to rub off on Pujara, who switched gears on bringing up his half-century. There were no more than a couple of moments of alarm, brought about more by indecisive calling than any great threat from the bowlers as Sri Lanka wilted under the classical onslaught that bled them dry nick by unremarkable nick.

Pujara went from 50 to 100 No. 13 in just 52 deliveries, peppering the boundary while also making full use of the in-out fields that Chandimal used more in hope than with any great conviction. There were often four and five boundary-riders, but Perera and Pushpakumara were both profligate, the latter in particular far too short to offer his skipper any control. Pushpakumara came into this Test – his 100th first-class game – with loads of expectations, but this was a disappointing first day in office, probably due to nerves and due to the quality of batsmanship he was confronted with.

Rahane eased his way through the fifties and sixties, motored along thereafter and brought up his ninth century with stumps imminent. It was his first century in 18 Test innings, celebrated with the emotion it deserved. Then, it was time to bed down and bat out time.

As if they didn’t have enough woes to contend with, Sri Lanka had the mortification of seeing Pradeep hobble off in the first over with the second new ball, clutching his left hamstring. With two set run-hungry individuals in the middle and a dashing group to follow, Friday could be a long, long day for the home side.


Courtesy/Source: Wisden India

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