Indians boss opening day

Indians boss opening day

Cricket First Test: Dhawan, Pujara hit tons as Kohli's men reach commanding 399/3 at stumps

Indians boss opening day
By no stretch of imagination, the Galle International Cricket Stadium can be termed Shikhar Dhawan’s favourite ground. This, after all, was only his third innings at this picturesque venue which is set in the backdrop of the iconic Galle Fort, one of the few structures to have survived the devastating Tsunami in 2004 here.

There is, however, something about the ground that seems to bring out the best out of the left-hander even if the sample size is too small to make such generalisation. Nearly two years after he scored his fourth career ton at this place, Dhawan brought up his fifth hundred that helped India boss the opening day of the first Test against Sri Lanka here on Wednesday. Having missed 11 of India’s Tests between his last appearance against New Zealand in Kolkata last year and this match following a prolonged dry run, Dhawan returned in the same manner that characterised his Test debut in 2013.

The Delhi batsman was out after compiling a breezy 190 (236m, 165b, 31x4) as India finished day one at a commanding 399/3 in 90 overs after electing to bat first. Cheteshwar Pujara, India’s top run-getter last season, was no less impressive with the right-hander completing his 12th hundred. Pujara remained unbeaten on 144 (351m, 246b, 12x4) after raising a 113-run partnership with Ajinkya Rahane (39 batting) for the unbroken fourth wicket. 

The 253-run partnership between Dhawan and Pujara, who contributed 176 and 74 respectively with the bat during a 197-minute stand, was the rock around which India built their impressive total. Sandwiched between the dismissals of opener Abhinav Mukund early in the day and skipper Virat Kohli right at the start of the final session, Dhawan-Pujara partnership was dominated by the former without the Saurashtra batsman going into a complete shell. But Dhawan’s stroke-making was so dazzling that everything around him was blinded. Not since he announced his arrival to the longer version with a 174-ball 187 against Australia in Mohali had he played an innings that was as impressive and impactful.

Given a chance to open only because of the illness-forced absence of KL Rahul, Dhawan turned the clock back with a swashbuckling innings that stood out as much for its dominance as for its determination. In admittedly good batting conditions, Dhawan swept with authority, pulled with control and cut with conviction to expose the limited bowling resources of the home team. If the wicket was flat, Lankan bowling was flatter. Only pacer Nuwan Pradeep (3/64) stood out with a tireless show in unforgiving conditions even as the three-pronged spin attack came in for severe punishment.

The spin trio of skipper Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera and Danuksha Gunathilaka failed to make any impact on a surface that didn’t offer them too much assistance. Dhawan and Pujara didn’t allow them to settle into any sort of rhythm either, often stepping out and slamming down the ground or through the cover region.

So dominant was Dhawan that after reaching 50 off 63, he took just another 47 balls to complete his century. The scoring rate just grew faster as he hammered more than 100 runs in the middle session alone. His 126 between lunch break and tea is, in fact, the highest score for that session in 63 years. It’s the fourth highest overall for a second session and the best since Denis Compton’s 173 against Pakistan in 1954 at Trent Bridge.

Reprieved on 31 in a total of 51/1 by a diving Asela Gunaratne at second slip off Lahiru Kumara, Dhawan made the Lankans pay dearly for the lapse. As if rubbing salt into their injuries, Gunaratne also broke his left thumb while attempting that catch that has ruled him out for the rest of the match. It’s a body blow to the hosts who will be up against a huge Indian first innings total as and when it comes to an end.      
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