GALLE: Opener Shikhar Dhawan made the most of his lucky Test comeback to slam a career-best 190-run knock, while Cheteshwar Pujara continued his golden run as India posted a formidable 399/3 on day one of the first Test against Sri Lanka here.
Brought into the squad only after first-choice opener Murali Vijay was ruled out due to injury, Dhawan made full use of the opportunity and played an entertaining 168-ball innings that was studded with 31 fours. This was his fifth Test hundred.
Perfect foil to him was the in-form Pujara, who notched up his 12th Test hundred, remaining unbeaten at 144 off 247 balls. The duo powered India to their highest total on day one of an away Test and also the best by a visiting team in Sri Lanka, bettering the West Indies.
They also shared a 253-run second-wicket stand, which can well be described the defining partnership for India.
It was a case of two contrasting hundreds but both served India’s purpose quite well against a home team, which was down to 10 men after middle-order batsman Asela Gunaratne was ruled out of the series with a fractured left thumb. Gunaratne was injured while fielding at second slip, trying to grab a catch of Dhawan.
The visiting batsmen were in marauding form and amassed the highest number of runs on the opening day of a Test by a visiting team in Sri Lanka.
In the process, India improved on their previous record of most runs scored on the opening day of an overseas Test, which stood at 375/9 versus New Zealand in Wellington.
Earlier, Virat Kohli (3) was caught behind shortly after the tea break as he tried to pull a short delivery and only managed to edge to the keeper. Sri Lanka opted for a DRS review after the initial not-out decision, and got it overturned.
But Ajinkya Rahane (39 batting, 94 balls, 1 four) put on 113 runs with Pujara for the fourth wicket and saw out the remainder of the session without any trouble.
They crossed the 50-mark off 96 balls and then the 100- mark off 182 balls. India crossed 300 in the 63rd over, and then 350 in the 77th over, with the run-rate slowing down a tad as compared to the first two sessions when Dhawan was at the crease.
In the process, Pujara brought up his 12th Test hundred off 172 balls, inclusive of eight fours. Sri Lanka took the second new ball in the 81st over, but were unable to get a breakthrough even as play was extended to complete the day’s quota of overs.
Earlier, Dhawan scored his highest Test score as India reached 282/2 at tea. After lunch, Dhawan and Pujara brought up their 100-partnership off 130 balls.
The left-handed opener reached his fifth Test hundred off 110 balls, inclusive of 16 fours. He had scored at an awe- inspiring strike rate of 91.81 until then, and accelerated once he crossed this landmark. In total, he scored at 113.09 during his stay at the crease.
He crossed 150 off 147 balls, with another eight boundaries. Dhawan unleashed a plethora of sweep shots against the spinners as Sri Lanka had no clue on how to possibly contain him. His 200-partnership with Pujara came up off 236 balls, and then crossed 250 off 280 balls, as runs came easily.
Shortly afterwards, Dhawan crossed his previous best score of 187 against Australia scored at Mohali in March 2013 and looked primed for scoring his maiden Test double hundred.
But it wasn’t to be as he miscued a shot straight to Angelo Mathews at mid-off off Nuwan Pradeep (3-64) minutes before the tea break, and threw away his wicket needlessly.
In the morning, Dhawan and Pujara helped India reach 115/1 in 27 overs at lunch. This was after India won the toss and opted to bat. The visitors opted for a five-pronged attack as all-rounder Hardik Pandya made his Test debut.
For Sri Lanka, Danushka Gunathilaka was handed his maiden Test cap as well.
Dhawan opened the innings with Abhinav Mukund (12) and the two batsmen got off the blocks very quickly. Despite a sprinkling of green on the Galle pitch, pacers Pradeep and Lahiru Kumara (0-95) couldn’t make optimal use of the new ball. The opening duo scored at will as they rotated strike with se.
With a great batting track available, Mukund wasted a golden opportunity for a big score as he edged behind off Pradeep in the 8th over.
Spin was introduced in the seventh over but it wasn’t stand- in skipper Rangana Herath who came on to bowl. Instead, off-break bowler Dilruwan Perera (0-103) was introduced into the attack.
He didn’t make any positive impact on Dhawan, or his new partner as Pujara also made a positive start to his innings. The pair looked to attack against spin but after a few misses, settled down to form a partnership. They put on 50 runs off only 60 balls, setting the pace for the remainder of the day.
Dhawan was given a life when Asela Gunaratne dropped him at second slip off Kumar in that same over. He was on 31 not out at that time, and went on to score his 4th Test half- century off 62 balls inclusive of four fours.
Herath (0-92) finally came on to bowl in the 19th over, but the batsmen had an easy time until lunch, bringing up India’s 100-mark in the 25th over.