Kandy: India opener Shikhar Dhawan struck a whirlwind ton and Lokesh Rahul scored a half-century, but hosts Sri Lanka hit back towards the end of the first day of the third Test as India posted 329/6 at stumps at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium here on Saturday.
The Lankan spinners picked up five wickets with wicket-keepr Wriddhiman Saha (13 batting) and all-rounder Hardik Pandya (1 batting) surviving the final two overs of the day after Ravichandran Ashwin (31), skipper Virat Kohli (42) and Ajinkya Rahane (17) fell to left-arm pacer Vishwa Fernando (1/68), chinaman Lakshan Sandakan (2/84) and Malinda Pushpakumara (3/40) respectively. Resuming the final session at 235/3, left-arm spinner Pushpakumara scalped the wicket of Rahane before Sandakan sent Kohli back into the hut just when the skipper was looking good with three fours. Ashwin also had to make the long walk towards the pavilion courtesy a superb catch by Niroshan Dickwella at second slip off Fernando's bowling. In the same session, Kohli finally paid the price for trying to play outside the off-stump with Sandakan getting his outside edge for a regulation catch by Dimuth Karunaratne at slips.
Rahane was castled by Pushpakumara, the right-hander being too circumspect and offering a poor shot to a straight delivery without much deception. For the hosts, Pushpakumara (3/40) and Sandakan (2/84) were the pick of the bowlers. Earlier, Dhawan and Rahul stitched together a 188-run opening wicket stand and Rahul brought up his seventh successive 50-plus score. Dhawan raced to his second century of the tour. The Delhi southpaw's innings was laced with 17 boundaries. But after the stand was broken, there were no fifty-run associations as the tourists managed only 141 runs losing six wickets in the remaining 50.4 overs. Electing to bat after winning the toss, India were off to a flying start, rushing to their 50 in just 55 balls as Dhawan completed his fourth half century of the series in just 45 balls.
Eyeing their maiden whitewash of the hosts, the Indian openers looked unperturbed facing a fresh Lankan bowling attack with chinaman Lakshan Sandakan and seamers Lahiru Kumara and Vishwa Fernando in the team, which looked pedestrian throughout the opening session. The Lankans had themselves to blame for letting a couple of opportunities slip when an edge from Dhawan went through second and third slip and then Lahiru Kumara misjudged a skier from Rahul. Leading the spin attack in Rangana Herath's absence, off-spinner Dilruwan Perera failed to impress as Dhawan danced down the track in only his second over to loft him over mid-off and then fetched another boundary with a pull. The hosts did not use Malinda Pushpakumara's left-arm orthodox before lunch, but tried Lakshan Sandakan's left-arm wristspin for a couple of overs. He found a bit of drift early on, but also sent down a full-toss that Dhawan swept to the square-leg boundary. With India also picking chinaman Kuldeep Yadav in place of the suspended Ravindra Jadeja, this was the first Test match since January 2004 - when West Indies' Dave Mohammed and South Africa's Paul Adams featured in Cape Town - to include two specialist chinaman bowlers. Resuming at 134/0, Dhawan and Rahul kept punishing the bowlers to swell their stand to 188 before Pushpakumara's tossed up delivery cut short Rahul's stay before home skipper Dinesh Chandimal's brilliant diving catch ended Dhawan's 123-ball knock, which was laced with 17 hits to the fence. Rahul was in excellent form and seemed to be well on his way to what would have been a well deserved century when he was let down by a poor piece of shot selection. Having stepped out to a delivery from Pushpakumara, Rahul misjudged the flight and could only manage to find Dimuth Karunaratne at mid-on.
Rahul scored 85 runs off 135 balls which included eight boundaries. Dhawan was going great guns at the other end, finding the gaps at regular intervals. But a mistimed sweep brought his innings to an end as Chandimal dived full length to his left at square leg to latch on to the ball in mid air. Dhawan, who departed on 119, scored his second century of the series and his third overall against Sri Lanka. This was the sixth century of his Test career. Pujara followed him back to the pavilion just three overs later after being caught by Angelo Mathews in the slips off Sandakan's bowling. Kohli and Rahane ensured that the visitors did not suffer any more setbacks before tea as the Lankans went into the break well satisfied with the outcome of the post lunch session.