Ashwin, Mishra strike to remove openers after visitor takes 192-run lead
Test match batting is as much about situational awareness and adaptability as it is about scoring runs. The art of scoring runs is as much about steady accumulation as about sparkling strokeplay. Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli demonstrated the art of innings-building at the Galle International Cricket Stadium on a warm Thursday (August 13), driving Sri Lanka ragged with their steadfast approach.
India began day two of the first Test with its noses in front, 128 for 2 in response to Sri Lanka’s 183. By the time stumps were drawn after an attritional six and a bit hours, it had moved emphatically into the driver’s seat, riding on the back of a gritty hundred by Dhawan and a masterful compilation from the skipper who shrugged off a barren run of 11 international innings without a half-century by bringing up his fifth hundred in his last six Tests.
The two boys from Delhi engaged themselves in the first double-hundred stand for the third wicket for India on Sri Lankan soil, their 227-run alliance the driving force around which India opened up a first-innings lead of 192.
Tharindu Kaushal, the young offspinner, picked up his second five-for in three Tests to ensure India’s first innings ended at 375, but it also left his batsmen with a tricky four overs to negotiate to stumps.
That was time enough for R Ashwin, Sri Lanka’s tormentor on the first day, and Amit Mishra to make their mark. Given the new ball by Kohli, the offspinner struck with the fifth delivery of the innings that hastened off the pitch from round the stumps and burst through Dimuth Karunaratne’s defences, while Mishra produced the perfect googly in the next over to peg back the middle pole of a bemused Kaushal Silva, the other opener.
Dhammika Prasad, the nightwatchman at No. 3, and Kumar Sangakkara held on till stumps as Sri Lanka ended at 5 for 2, needing not just a further 187 to stave off an innings defeat but also a special effort from the soon-to-retire legend if it is to extend the game to a fourth day.
Sri Lanka was handicapped in the opening session by the absence from the middle of Angelo Mathews. Not only did it miss his leadership skills, it also had to make do without his intelligent bowling at a time when they desperately needed to break the third-wicket partnership. The rest of the bowling pack toiled away manfully and while they did occasionally look menacing, they didn’t string together enough probing deliveries consistently enough in the pre-lunch period to make a definite impression.
Dhawan was the more fluent of the two at the start of the day as Kohli was content to bed himself in. Runs came in trickles rather than in a torrent, but that was no issue given how much time was left in the match, and how much rested on this pair’s shoulders, especially with India going in a batsman short. Dhawan played one glorious square-drive off Nuwan Pradeep, the first boundary coming only off the 72nd ball of the day and perfectly illustrating where India had placed its priorities.
The arrival at the bowling crease of Tharindu Kaushal brought the first signs of excitement. After one tap-on-the-head paddle, Dhawan was pushed back and seemingly struck in front, but Bruce Oxenford ruled in the batsman’s favour. Then 79 of 167 for 2, Dhawan needed no second invitation to kick on towards his second successive overseas Test hundred.
Dhawan’s innings wasn’t entirely flawless – he had been put down on Wednesday on 28 and was grassed again on 122, and was pinged on the back of his helmet after lunch when 113 as he took his eyes off a Pradeep lifter – but those slices of fortune were no more than he deserved during a six and a quarter-hour vigil throughout which he nursed a bruised, swollen right palm following an injury sustained while fielding. He became only the third Indian opener to score back-to-back hundreds overseas – it can’t be an insignificant list when the other two in it are Sunil Gavaskar and Rahul Dravid.
Dhawan came into this game with good form, including 62 in the warm-up game in Colombo last week, while Kohli was well short on runs. He couldn’t have chosen a better time to play himself back into form. He was more assured and compact than his left-handed mate, eschewing all risk till India had gone into the black. He celebrated the taking of the lead with his first boundary of the day, a scorching cover-drive off Tharindu Kaushal who bowled well in patches, off his 57th ball of day two.
Kohli’s driving was a thing of beauty as he gave himself a touch of room, broke his wrists and drove with his characteristic whip snap on the offside; between those sporadic bursts of attack, though, he was happy to work the gaps of which there were many, setting his ego aside and focussing on crease-occupation without getting bogged down. He was in a spot of bother early in the day, rapped on his pad off the first ball of the day’s second over by Rangana Herath that was just headed down leg, and edging Pradeep loosely past gully seconds after the ball had been changed eight overs into the day. But once he tided over those initial blues, there was a touch of inevitability about his 11th Test ton.
His dismissal three deliveries after reaching his century was unfortunate. Kaushal defeated his attempted sweep and struck him on the front pad. Kohli stood a while, digested the decision and trudged off after a job well done, but hardly had he taken his pads off than he was joined in the hut by Ajinkya Rahane, trapped in front for a fifth-ball duck by Kaushal.
At 257 for 4, India was only 74 ahead, Wriddhiman Saha walking in with Kaushal having his tail up. Another wicket immediately would have exposed the lower order, but Sri Lanka missed a trick when Lahiru Thirimanne put down that tough chance at short cover to reprieve Dhawan. That allowed India to piece together a small but vital 37-run stand and take the sting out of the attack. Then, Dhawan was slightly late in bringing his bat down to a quick incutter from Pradeep that went on to hit the stumps off the under-edge.
India lost two quick wickets for the second time in the day, Ashwin cleaned up by a beauty from Pradeep nine minutes later, but Saha held firm while shepherding the tail. His role at No. 6 in a five-bowler line-up is a crucial one, and he must have gladdened the think-tank with his maiden Test half-century, a judicious mix of attacking batsmanship, watchful defence and farming of the strike. First with Harbhajan Singh, then with Ishant Sharma, he added important runs down the order to swell India’s advantage before being adjudged caught behind to Pradeep on the pull.
Kaushal, oscillating between the sublime and the very ordinary marked by a diet of full-tosses and no-balls, finished with a five-wicket haul, reward for perseverance if nothing else. His wickets came at a fair cost, but Sri Lanka will take those. Now, for the batsmen to try and make a match of it.
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