© AFP
© AFP

The third and final Test between India and Sri Lanka kicked off at the picturesque ground of Pallekele. This is India’s first ever Test at the venue. The coin favoured Virat Kohli for the third time in a row, and visitors opted to bat. India ended Day 1 at 329 for 6 on the back of Shikhar Dhawan‘s hundred and KL Rahul‘s fifty, followed by splendid recovery from Sri Lankan spinners. There were plenty of moments for both sides. Let us walk through the top highlights of the day.

Ashwin’s 28th, Rahane’s 27th and Saha’s 25th: It’s never easy to predict Kohli’s XI. The 28-year-old is yet to field the same side in a Test match. India, again, underwent one change in their line-up, with Ravindra Jadeja banned due to breach of conduct by ICC, after the second Test. He was replaced by Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav. This brings us to a unique debate: who has played the most under captain Kohli?

Interestingly, Ravichandran Ashwin has played maximum since Kohli’s tenure. This is his 28th match, vice-captain Rahane’s 27th, wicketkeeper Saha’s 25th time in the Kohli era.

Same old story: We saw India elect to bat first and pile mammoth score in the preceding Tests. The script seemed to be heading in the same direction, at least till first session. Rahul and Dhawan continued to pile runs, adding 188 for the opening stand, in their free-flowing manner. Both batsmen got the scoreboard ticking and Sri Lanka bowlers paid the price for being erratic. Visitors were 134 for no loss at lunch, scoring at over 5 per over. Rahul slammed yet another fifty, while Dhawan was not far behind.

Rahul — Naam toh sunna hoga?

Yes, the above line is a clichéd in Hindi cinema. But when Rahul is on song, this suits him the best. After scoring a plethora of runs in Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2017, Rahul stormed his way back into the side in the ongoing series. Since then, he has carried on in similar fashion. He had scored a fifty in every Test against Australia, and already has two half-centuries in this series (remember, he missed the opener at Galle). Today was his 7th consecutive fifty (most by an Indian), thereby matching the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, Andy Flower, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Chris Rogers.

In process, Rahul also went past Allan Border, Gary Sobers and Jack Ryder.

Hudd Hudd Dhawan Dhawan Dhawan Dhawan…

After Rahul, it was Dhawan’s turn. The left-hander went a step ahead of his partner. While three figures continued to evade Rahul, Dhawan registered his second ton in Sri Lanka. The swashbuckling left-hander crafted his innings and creamed some glorious strokes in the middle. He notched up his 6th Test ton – fifth outside India.

Dhawan also became the 5th opener to score two 100s in a series in Sri Lanka – and second after Virender Sehwag – to have two centuries as visiting opener. Nonetheless, he could not go on to make a big hundred and fell for 119. His innings comprised of 17 fours and wholesome entertainment.

No wait, there’s a twist in the tale

After getting rid of Indian openers, Sri Lanka crawled their way back into the contest. They appeared more energetic post lunch and did not allow India’s middle order to stay for long. Credit goes to Lakshan Sandakan and Malinda Pushpakumara. The duo weren’t afraid of tossing the ball despite the platform provided by Dhawan and Rahul. They maintained accuracy for long and bowled slow through the air. Sri Lankan fielders also responded and the camp grew in confidence with every breakthrough. Everything was in display by the Lankan spinners. They bowled round as well as over the stumps and even resorted to doosras.

As a result, Kohli, Rahane and Ashwin got starts but perished before stumps. At 329 for 6, visitors need a strong lower order contribution on Day Two to get close to 450-run mark.