Sri Lanka fights back after India’s solid start in 3rd Test
Dhawan and Rahul share 188-run opening-wicket partnership on first day of third Test
Sri Lanka hit back through the orthodox spin of Malinda Pushpakumara (3-40) and the unorthodox spin of Lakshan Sandakan (2-84)
The first half of the day produced a massive opening partnership, a seventh successive 50-plus score for Lokesh Rahul (85) and a second century of the tour for Shikhar Dhawan (119).
Then, Sri Lanka hit back through its trio of left-armers, the orthodox spin of Malinda Pushpakumara (3-40), the unorthodox spin of Lakshan Sandakan (2-84), and the swing of Vishwa Fernando (1-68).
India scored 188 without loss in the first 39.2 overs of the day, and 141 for six in the remaining 50.4.
Having won its third toss of the series, India would have taken 329 for six at stumps, given the strength of its lower order, and given the amount of turn - albeit slow, for now - this Pallekele pitch is beginning to offer. But, given the position India's openers put it in, Sri Lanka would have ended the day thrilled with its efforts to pull things back.
The first two wickets came from aggressive shots against Pushpakumara, Rahul stepping out and failing to clear mid-on, and Dhawan sweeping hard but uppishly to square leg. Given that opening, Sri Lanka's bowlers ensured the pressure did not let up. Having seemed to go through the motions right through the morning session and for most of the post-lunch session, they suddenly began bowling with purpose.
Pushpakumara bowled much fuller here, attacking the stumps and keeping batsmen guessing with his scrambled-seam delivery. He entered the attack late - in the 40th over of India's innings - but made such an impact that Dilruwan Perera, Sri Lanka's most senior spinner, didn't bowl a single ball after lunch.
Sandakan, meanwhile, forced the batsmen to keep a wary eye on his wrist to pick the variations out of his hand, and in the process, they sometimes misread his variations in trajectory. Cheteshwar Pujara (8), rocking back to cut one that wasn't short enough, top-edged to slip. Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane (17) saw out a testing period until tea, and found no release after the interval.
Sandakan kept floating the ball above Rahane's eyeline and got it to dip, forcing him to reach for the ball. Dip undid Rahane and a loose drive undid Kohli, even if the bowler in each case wasn't the one that initiated the respective plans.
Rahane, reaching well in front of his body, played across a Pushpakumara ball that didn't turn and also kept slightly low. Kohli, having fought his way to 42, threw his hands at a wide, flighted googly from Sandakan and nicked to slip.
With 13 balls left in the day, Fernando, armed with the second new ball, belatedly struck. In his 18th over of the day, he slanted one across R Ashwin 931), pitching just short of a good length.
In his previous over, from the other end, he had kept swinging the ball back in. This one just went with the angle; Ashwin poked, and Niroshan Dickwella dived across first slip to grab a stunning one-hander.
Earlier in the morning, the Indian openers scored their runs at 4.75 per over, with Dhawan going at close to a run a ball, capitalising on the smallest sign of width from the quicks and using his feet superbly against spin.
Rahul made his seventh successive 50-plus score in Test matches, becoming the joint record-holder alongside Everton Weekes, Andy Flower, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Kumar Sangakkara and Chris Rogers.
SHIKHAR 119runs LOKESH 85runs DHAWAN 123 balls RAHUL 135 balls