Pujara, Rahane tons give India early edge

If Cheteshwar Pujara, combined with Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, had put the Sri Lankans on a hospital bed with hundreds in the first Test, India’s number three took out a surgical knife and precisely carved the hosts open on the opening day of the second Test. Pujara made a superb unbeaten 128, while Ajinkya Rahane (103*), too, got into the act, like a willing intern, and smashed his 9th Test hundred. By stumps, India had racked up 344/3.

Even before the Test began, Sri Lanka must have been sick of seeing Pujara. In the two games against the hosts, Pujara has amassed 313 runs. More significantly, in 591 balls he’s faced, Sri Lanka had only been able to remove him thrice. On Thursday (August 3), the opening day of the second Test at Galle, Pujara beefed up those numbers with another 128 runs and 225 balls as India saw themselves take a higher ground.

On a pitch that took enough turn, India made the most of winning the toss. They were precariously placed at 133/3 in the second session, but a mammoth 211-run stand off 308 balls, between Pujara and Rahane saw India make rapid progress.

Pujara was slow to start with, when on 12 he took 30 balls to get his next run, as Sri Lanka tried to frustrate the batsman into playing a false shot. The pitch offered the bowlers some turn, and by the end of the first session, there were a few balls turning and jumping viciously. However, Pujara was able to negate Sri Lanka’s three-pronged spin attack, they had brought in debutant Malinda Pushpakumara for this game, with some great application and execution.

In the second session, Pujara started laying into the spinners. He scored at breakneck speed and very easily caught up with the balls he had eaten up earlier.

Pujara’s footwork was a work of art on the day. He would regularly come down the track to the spinners and pounced on the short ball that invariably followed. He brought up his 4000th Test run and his 13th Test hundred in the process. After some nervy moments early in the innings, Pujara had carved out a chanceless innings. His plans against the spinners were perfect, and his execution was even better.

At the other end, he had Ajinkya Rahane who was intent on being positive. As a batting pair, they complemented each other perfectly. Rahane was the impetus to India quickly recovering from their position of danger, using the sweep, the lofted drive and the pull to score quickly, but Pujara matched him effortlessly.

Rahane went on to bring up his hundred, his ninth in Tests, with a dab wide of point in the 86th over as India assumed full control. His knock was studded with 12 fours, but it was the intent that clearly stood out. He came in with a plan to not let the bowlers dominate and was able to keep them out of harm’s way.

Soon after helping India take the upper hand, Rahane settled into his rhythm. He would pick off easy singles, and then take the aerial route to get the field to spread out again.

India had, yet again, gone in with a different combination for this Test. Shikhar Dhawan, courtesy a match-winning 190 in the last Test, held on to his spot while Abhinav Mukund made way for KL Rahul. Sri Lanka made an array of changes for the spinning track, with Dinesh Chandimal, Dhanajaya de Silva and Pushpakumara all coming in. They went in with just one pacer.

The new batting pair were able to get India off to a decent start. Rangana Herath troubled both batsmen while opening the bowling, and Dhawan skipped down the track in the same over to send the ball out of the park. It was a sign of things to come for Herath, who was taken off the attack after just three overs.

Rahul and Dhawan scored briskly, and soon helped them notch up their fifty in the 9th over. Sri Lanka’s wicket came through an LBW DRS review off Perera with the score on 56. Pujara and Rahul too looked largely untroubled and after Lunch started to play with a lot more freedom.

However, a huge mix up ended Rahul’s comeback while on 57 off 82. Rahul had looked comfortable, and got to his sixth consecutive Test fifty. He had set himself for the long haul and was livid with himself and Pujara after being run out against the run of play.

Kohli looked busy during his brief stay, but an ill-advised cut off a fullish delivery from Herath saw him edging to Angelo Mathews. India at 133/3 were in a spot. That was the last time Sri Lanka celebrated for the day, their misery further compounded by the injury to Nuwan Pradeep, who walked out midway through his 18th over with an injury.

If Sri Lanka don’t pull out something magical on day 2, a lot more of the same could be in store.

Brief scores: India 344/3 (Cheteshwar Pujara 128*, Ajinkya Rahane 103*, Lokesh Rahul 57; Dilruwan Perera 1-68) vs Sri Lanka

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