TWO MEN, TOO GOOD

Pu­jara (128*), Ra­hane (103*) share an un­bro­ken 211-run stand to lift In­dia from 133-3 to 344-3 on Day 1

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Anand Vasu,

There are days when the best laid plans don’t bear fruit, sim­ply be­cause the op­po­si­tion was too good, for­tune turned her face away or sim­ply be­cause a team was not good enough to get the job done. Sri Lanka, hav­ing been smoth­ered by In­dia’s bat­ting in Galle, hoped for turn, searched for bounce and prayed for mis­takes in Colombo, but In­dia’s bat­ting was once again sim­ply too strong. On a pitch that was more bald than Ben Kingsley, Sri Lanka chose to play three spin­ners, with Nuwan Pradeep be­ing the only man op­er­at­ing off a long run. Ran­gana Herath had the off spin of Dil­ruwan Per­era and the lef­t­arm or­tho­dox of Malinda Push­paku­mara, mak­ing his de­but af­ter 99 first class matches, for com­pany but even as they wheeled away through­out the day, there were lit­tle re­turns to show for the ef­fort they put in.

In­dia be­gan brightly, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul go­ing at a fast clip, en­sur­ing that the hard new ball was put away for as many runs as pos­si­ble in case the go­ing got tough later. Dhawan, per­haps in too good nick fol­low­ing his 190 in the first Test, played a hard sweep at Per­era early on, and when he failed to make con­tact with the ball was plumb in front.

Chetesh­war Pu­jara, play­ing in his 50th Test, joined Rahul out in the mid­dle and In­dia dom­i­nated. Sri Lanka made the mis­take of al­low­ing Pu­jara to play to his strength, which is the leg side, and Rahul’s hunger at play­ing Test cricket af­ter months out due to a shoul­der surgery put him in a great men­tal space to cash in.

While Rahul was light on his feet and tim­ing the ball su­perbly, a crisp hit over long-off for six the high­light of his stay at the crease, Pu­jara was solid, and used the depth of the crease to make the most go his back-foot strength. Rahul (57) looked good to break his run of half-cen­turies — he came into the game with six from his last seven in­nings — when a com­mu­ni­ca­tion break­down left him stranded. Tap­ping the ball to the off side with soft hands, Rahul pushed for the sin­gle. Pu­jara ap­peared to re­spond, but changed his mind and the run out gave Sri Lanka the pick-up they needed.

Rahul was clearly dis­ap­pointed, and rightly so, for it was not merely his call, but there was cer­tainly a run on of­fer if the bats­men had not hes­i­tated. Pu­jara is not the kind of crick­eter who needs added mo­ti­va­tion, but hav­ing played a hand in his part­ner’s run out, he seemed ever more de­ter­mined to make a big score, some fur­ther skit­tish run­ning not­with­stand­ing.

For a brief pe­riod be­fore the lunch in­ter­val, the ball be­gan to rear from a length and grip the sur­face and turn ap­pre­cia­bly. But, soon af­ter the break as the ball soft­ened, there was less bite for the bowlers and it was time to cash in. Kohli (13) was pos­i­tive from the word go, per­haps a touch too much, and made the mis­take of sit­ting back to cut a de­liv­ery from Herath that was a touch too full for the shot. The flash­ing edge was well caught at slip and In­dia were in a spot of bother at 133 for 3.

From there on, how­ever, it be­came clearer than ever that this was go­ing to be In­dia’s day. Pu­jara and Ajinkya Ra­hane put on an un­beaten 211-run stand for the fourth wicket, both help­ing them­selves to cen­turies as Sri Lanka wilted in the field. Pradeep, the lone fast bowler, hob­bled off the park just as the se­cond new ball was due leav­ing the spin­ners to do all the work with the pitch not be­ing as help­ful as they would have hoped.

Pu­jara brought up his 13th Test hun­dred and Ra­hane his 9th, leav­ing Di­nesh Chandi­mal tear­ing his hair out and won­der­ing where the next wicket might come from. Most teams look at a pitch care­fully and then de­cide their bowl­ing line-up. Here it seemed to be a case of Sri Lanka de­cid­ing what they wanted — a rank turner— and pick­ing a team on that ba­sis, rather than on how the pitch looked on the morn­ing of the game.

With In­dia hav­ing reached 344 for 3, Pu­jara bed­ding in for the long haul with 128 and Ra­hane set to take fresh guard on the se­cond day on 103, the bowlers are in for a hard slog.

Sri Lanka may have switched to Plan B, but early in­di­ca­tions were that this may not do much to change the re­sult of the game.

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