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Ashwin puts India in command

Offspinner's 6 for 46 helps India bowl Sri Lanka out for 183 before reaching 128 for 2 at stumps on Day 1

Ashwin puts India in command - Cricket News
R Ashwin's 6 for 46 helped India bowl Sri Lanka out for 183.

Play didn’t begin until six minutes past the scheduled starting time at the Galle International Cricket Stadium on Wednesday (August 12). Strong winds that savagely ruffled the white cloth serving as the sightscreen forced Sri Lanka openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva, as well as Virat Kohli and his men to wait for the ground staff to do their thing after Angelo Mathews won the toss and predictably chose to bat.

That wasn’t quite the only flutter on day one of the first Test. On a lovely day for cricket with the rain staying away, R Ashwin's 6 for 46 helped India bowl Sri Lanka out for 183, before the home side reclaimed some ground by rapidly evicting KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma. Virat Kohli (45 not out) and Shikhar Dhawan (53 not out), however, not merely steadied the ship but took India to within 55 runs of Sri Lanka’s total as it closed on 128 for 2. 

With only 183 on the board, Dhammika Prasad bent one back in to trap Rahul in front and Rohit was leg before to incoming deliveries twice in his 24-ball stay. On the first occasion, Prasad had overstepped but Rohit added just one to his then tally of eight before playing outside the line, again, to Mathews and being struck on the back pad.

Dhawan was dropped by Angelo Mathews at slip off Tharindu Kaushal when 28 but was otherwise untroubled, while Kohli looked in glorious touch as evidenced by punchy, wristy drives down the ground off pacers and spinners alike.

Their association is already worth 100, but India's domination was set up by Ashwin's heroics. His second five-for in as many away Tests was just reward for sticking to his game plan and not getting carried away by the purchase he got from the strip very early in the match.

India added Amit Mishra as the third prong of a spin attack that wasn’t short on either experience or quality, and went with Varun Aaron’s extra pace to complement Ishant Sharma. Mishra and Harbhajan Singh were both content to play second fiddle as Ashwin got on top of Sri Lanka, accounting for Kumar Sangakkara with his third delivery and bemusing batsmen with turn, flight and bounce.

Ashwin dismissed the left-hand trio of Sangakkara, Lahiru Thirimanne and Jehan Mubarak in his first spell of six overs that read 6-1-15-3.

Aaron, who had Silva put down by Dhawan at first slip, eventually got his man four overs later, caught by the same fielder at the same position to a far more difficult catch. This was after Ishant had forced Karunaratne to take his eye off the ball and fend it awkwardly for a loopy catch to gully.

Both openers had been undone by steep bounce with Sri Lanka in some trouble at 15 for 2. Sri Lanka promoted Thirimanne to the No. 3 slot but the move didn’t pay off. He began edgily against the pacers, then saw Sangakkara snaffled brilliantly by Rahul at silly point. As Sangakkara went back to force through the covers, Rahul stood tall, reacting quickly enough to grab the mishit off the bottom of the bat.

Thirimanne’s stay ended when he edged Ashwin to slip, while Mubarak was caught at forward short-leg, leaving Sri Lanka at 65 for 5 at lunch.

Wriddhiman Saha then dropped Dinesh Chandimal off Ishant after lunch, allowing Chandimal to associate himself in a counter-attacking sixth-wicket stand of 79 with his captain. Mathews was positive without being outlandish from the off, his driving crisp and his pulling decisive. Sri Lanka got back on course in the hour after lunch, which brought 53 runs.

Just when it looked like the partnership would grow into something substantial, Ashwin returned to dismiss Mathews. Rohit parried the initial overhead chance at short-leg, then spun around swiftly and dived to gobble up the rebound. Chandimal continued to stay positive, smashing Aaron for four fours in an over on the way to a half-century of his own.

Mishra’s four-year wait for a Test wicket finally ended when Chandimal edged a hoick to slip, and it became two in two as Kaushal was undone by a googly. When Ashwin defeated Rangana Herath’s slog and pegged off pole back, he had gone one better than his five-wicket haul in his previous Test against Bangladesh in Fatullah in June. His 6 for 46 was not just the best figures by an India spinner in Sri Lanka, but also the best by an India spinner on Day 1 of an overseas Test, ever. 

To view full scorecard, click here.

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