Delhi mates Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan composed a brilliant duet to set the tone for a strong Indian push for victory in the opening Test against Sri Lanka here on Thursday.
The duo, who joined forces on Wednesday evening with the visitors in a spot of bother at 28/2, hammered measured centuries in a potentially match-winning 227-run partnership on a sun-splashed day at the Galle International Cricket Stadium.
While Kohli (103 runs, 191 balls, 11x4) hit his 11th Test century and fourth as a skipper in as many matches, Dhawan (134, 271b, 13x4) — battling a right palm injury — became the third Indian opener after Sunil Gavaskar and Rahul Dravid to complete back-to-back overseas tons as India made 375 all out in 117.4 overs for an imposing 192-run lead.
Forced to bat four overs towards the fag end of the day, the Sri Lankan response took off in the worst manner possible, losing both their openers for nought to reach stumps at 5/2 with Kumar Sangakkara (1 batting) and nightwatchman Dhammika Prasad (3 batting) at the crease.
Aware the batting line-up wasn’t very long and an early wicket could give the Sri Lankans a sniff at a comeback, both Kohli and Dhawan gritted it out in old-school style to build their innings brick by brick. With the sun out in all its glory and the track too playing well, both the Delhiites saw off the opening hour in composed fashion, hardly going for anything extravagant.
The aggressive all-out shot-making that Kohli produced in Australia last December-January, when he clobbered four centuries, was conspicuous by its absence while Dhawan, known for his dashing play, too showed great restraint.
Happy to pick singles and rotate strike, they took 72 balls on the morning to hit the first boundary, Dhawan getting that with a superb cover drive off pacer Nuwan Pradeep. With lead pacer Prasad not being penetrative enough and left-arm spinner Rangana Herath not finding much support from the other end, except for Nuwan Pradeep in short bursts, both Kohli and Dhawan, barring a couple of close calls, largely look untroubled.
Slowly they started to open their shoulders without much risk-taking though and Lankans struggled to find a way past them. Dhawan then brought up his fourth century in style, cover-driving Prasad of the pacer’s final ball in the 57th over as Indians broke for lunch a little later having reached a commanding 227/2 in 63 overs.
The focus after the break was how soon would Kohli get his century and the 26-year-old notched it up in imperious fashion just like his partner at the other end, cover-driving Tharindu Kaushal for a boundary as India reached 250.
Just when it appeared the duo would bat the Sri Lankans out of the game, Kaushal helped the visitors land two crucial blows totally against the run of play. Inconsistent with his line and length despite getting appreciable help from the track in the early part of the day, the off-spinner first trapped Kohli leg-before although the ball appeared to be going down the leg side. That brought an end to a brilliant 227-run partnership, the highest third-wicket stand for India in Sri Lanka.
From 255/3 it soon became 257/4 when Rahane was adjudged leg-before in Kaushal’s very next over. The 22-year-old, who ended up with 5/134, could have seen the back of Dhawan an over later too but Lahiru Thirimmane dropped a difficult chance while diving to his left at short extra cover.
Thankfully that grassed effort didn’t cost the Lankans much as the tired-looking opener inside-edged a Pradeep deliver to depart for well-made 134. But wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha then slammed a fighting 60 and with the tail wagging, the visitors just rubbed more salt into the hosts’ wounds.
With the match totally in their grasp, the Indians would now be looking to complete the formalities on the third day itself for a fifth Test win on Lankan soil.