Galle, July 26 (IANS) Centuries from opener Shikhar Dhawan (190) and one-down Cheteshwar Pujara (144 not out) helped India reach 399/3 at stumps on the opening day of the first of the three-Test cricket series against Sri Lanka here on Wednesday.
Electing to bat at the Galle International Stadium, India rode on a 253-run second wicket effort between a blazing Dhawan and a steady Pujara to surpass the highest ever first day’s total of 351 runs in Sri Lanka.
Later, Pujara, who notched his 12th Test century, and Ajinkya Rahane (39 not out) put on an unbeaten 113-run fourth-wicket stand to take the visitors to their second ever highest opening day’s total — the highest being 417/2 in the 2009-10 home series against Sri Lanka.
Dhawan smashed the rather ordinary Sri Lankan bowling all around the ground, racing to 190 runs off 168 deliveries with 31 boundaries studding his hurricane innings.
The 31-year-old Dhawan, who got into the 16-member squad as Murali Vijay was injured, registered his fifth century in Test cricket — a perfect way to send a message to the selectors. It was also his highest score in the five-day format.
His opening partner, Abhinav Mukund (12), who got into the playing XI due to Lokesh Rahul’s illness, however, couldn’t impress the selectors.
Mukund struggled a bit, hitting only two boundaries off pacer Lahiru Kumara during his 26-ball stay in the middle. But the left-hander virtually gifted his wicket to Nuwan Pradeep when he decided to go after a ball which moved away slightly after pitching.
Pujara joined Dhawan and enjoyed some early luck when he edged Pradeep off the second ball he faced but the ball went for a boundary after landing wide of the slip cordon.
Dhawan however, continued to display excellent form at the other end, finding the fence at regular intervals.
Pujara soon settled his nerves and gave Dhawan excellent support at the other end as the former collected runs very quickly and registered his century after the lunch break.
Equally aggressive against the spinners, the Delhi batsman further dominated the Sri Lankan bowling after reaching the three-figure mark.
Dhawan finally fell when he tried to smash a Pradeep delivery over mid-off but mistimed his shot and Angelo Mathews pulled off an easy catch in the first ball of the 55th over.
Just after the 10-minute tea break, India suffered a big blow when captain Virat Kohli was caught by wicket-keeper Niroshan Dickwella, attempting to pull a bouncer from Pradeep, with India at 286/3.
Pujara, who was batting on 77 then, was joined by Rahane and the pair played some sedate cricket.
Pujara and Rahane took ones and twos as the Sri Lankans stepped up the pressure with their confidence boosted by Kohli’s wicket.
Pujara broke the dry patch by despatching veteran left-arm spinner Rangana Herath for two fours in the 66th over. And in the fifth ball of the next over, a drive towards mid-on off Kumara gave him a two to complete his hundred in 173 deliveries.
By that time, Rahane too had a grip on the conditions and he was looking good at 39 not out from 94 deliveries at the end of the day’s play, with Pujara unbeaten on 144 as India look strong for a huge total on the second day.
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