Dashing Dravid carries India's comeback
Rahul Dravid's 27th century - and tenth 150-plus score - carried more intent than probably any of his Test innings, and helped by MS Dhoni's second century and Yuvraj Singh's seventh half-century, led India's remarkable comeback from 32 for 4 in the first half hour. Along the way, he took part in his 77th and 78th 100-run partnerships (both world records), scored more runs than he ever has in a day's play, crossed Steve Waugh to become the fifth-highest run-getter in Tests, reached 11,000 career runs, and most importantly undid the superb start that two rookies gave Sri Lanka. Chanaka Welegedara and Dammika Prasad were last-minute replacements for Nuwan Kulasekara and Thilan Thushara, but they combined to give India flashbacks of their previous Test in Ahmedabad, when they were shot out for 76 by South Africa.
Test cricket it might be, but it rattled along at breathtaking pace and refused to slow down even with wickets falling. At the heart of it was Dravid. He was outscored by Yuvraj during their 125-run fifth-wicket partnership, the main feature of which was majestic driving by both batsmen. He then kept up with Dhoni, who made him run frantically between the wickets during their 224-run stand. Dravid, perhaps tired of the running, kept finding the boundary throughout his innings, reaching his fifty in 79 balls, hundred in 158, and 150 in 216. Dravid's pace - 110 of his unbeaten 177 coming in boundaries - allowed India's run-rate to stay over four almost throughout the day.
Acceleration wouldn't have been the first thing on his mind when he came in to bat in the third over of the innings, and saw three more wickets fall around him in the next five. Especially when he saw the ball swing from left-arm bowler Welegedara, who created doubts by mixing it up with deliveries that went straight on. The straighter ones got Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar, the swinging one Sehwag. His 3 for 12 was complemented by Dammika Prasad, who removed VVS Laxman.
All four wickets for Sri Lanka had come attacking the stumps, and they continued doing just that. Dravid and Yuvraj, having realised this wasn't a beast to bat on, counterattacked. Dravid got going through late clips off his pads, Yuvraj through a thick edge past gully. Immediately, though, Yuvraj corrected it with a picture-perfect cover-drive. Sangakkara perhaps missed a trick by introducing Angelo Mathews before Muttiah Muralitharan, and both Yuvraj and Dravid enjoyed the gentle pace and length balls. A couple of classy shots from Dravid later, the two had added 34 in 32 deliveries even before Murali was introduced.
Yuvraj faced the first over from Murali, and showed good judgement of the topspinner and regular offbreak. Driving through the line looked easy while the two were at it. Rangana Herath - playing ahead of Ajantha Mendis - was never allowed to settle, and was restricted to bowling flat deliveries, that too only minutes before the first two session breaks.
Dravid saw off Welegedara's swing with three boundaries in one over just after lunch, which summed up how well he played. One of the them was clipped late, to the right of midwicket, the next was cover-driven all along the ground, and the third flicked to the left of midwicket - all despite the swing.
Yuvraj's innings wasn't as spotless, despite three high-elbow off-drives for the photo album. Prasad, in his later spells either side of lunch, found his body with bouncers. Yuvraj bottom-edged a pull for four, upper-cut over slips for another, but then made his first outright mistake in Murali's next over, the bowler's seventh. He stepped out, saw he was beaten in the flight, but as opposed to thrusting his pad forward, he presented it both bat and pad.
There was little joy for Murali apart from that, as Dravid played two of his best drives off him just before tea: one against the spin through extra cover, the other straight down the ground. The second one carried him to 98, and Dhoni by that time had slyly reached 29 off 49 balls. His rate was only to go up, hitting Murali for a four and a straight six. Between those shots, Dravid took a single to reach his hundred, and even before he finished the 100th run he exulted, as demonstrative a celebration for a century as Dravid has ever got into.
For Dhoni the accumulation continued. He would walk out to spinners, and place them either side of midwicket, and run. That rattled Sri Lanka's plans, and with single-saving fields Dravid kept finding boundaries. Dhoni was 38 when Dravid reached 100; by the time Dravid reached 150, Dhoni had 85. In that period, Dravid hit eight boundaries, and Dhoni three. Such was Dhoni's efficiency.
Dhoni reached his century with a typical, step-out-and-push, but fell just before stumps, which gave Sri Lanka a glimpse but it seemed to get Dravid - closing in on a double - they would need more than just the glimpse.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo