Ashwin six-for puts India in charge
India 128 for 2 (Dhawan 53*, Kohli 45*) trail Sri Lanka 183 (Mathews 64, Chandimal 59, Ashwin 6-46) by 55 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Sri Lanka is not a place where you want to lose the toss as an opposition captain. Over the last 14 years, only two visiting captains have managed to win despite losing the toss. Virat Kohli raised the possibility of becoming the third after R Ashwin registered the best figures for an India bowler in the first innings of an away Test to bundle the hosts out for 183. India stumbled in response initially, but Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli steadied them with an unbroken 100-run partnership.
On a pitch that offered turn and bounce as early as the first session, this toss was all the more important to win, which is what will rankle the home captain Angelo Mathews the most. Not only did he win the toss, he also showed the others with his 64 that it was possible to bat on this pitch. There was little resistance from the other end - Dinesh Chandimal's half-century was a charmed innings and included a drop on 5 - as Ashwin ran away to his fastest five-for in Tests, also his second in two Tests and the best figures by an Indian in Sri Lanka. Had India taken all their catches - to go with two excellent ones by KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma - Sri Lanka would have been bundled out for much less.
It took Ashwin only 63 balls to reach his fifth wicket, and left-hand batsmen in particular were easy pickings for him. He took out four of them, including Kumar Sangakkara for 5 in his penultimate Test, in 30 balls. As well as Ashwin bowled, a six-wicket haul in 82 balls for a visiting spinner on day one should worry the batting side. Ashwin, who has been through tough times in away series in the last two years, will gladly take it. He will also be glad that by the time he came on to bowl in the 12th over, India's quick bowlers had already softened Sri Lanka up.
It did not start all that well for India, though, as ordinary slip catching reared its head again, with Dhawan dropping Kaushal Silva at first slip in the fourth over. Kohli will be glad his quick bowlers responded with pace, bounce and hostility to send back the openers. Dimuth Karunaratne edged while fending a bouncer from Ishant Sharma, and Silva was given out caught off the arm guard as he went to hook Varun Aaron. Dhawan redeemed himself with a diving catch, but DRS would have made for an interesting decision.
That brought in Sangakkara in the eight over. At the end of the first hour, Kohli went to Ashwin, and the procession continued. In his first over, Ashwin beat Sangakkara in the flight before a freak dismissal sent the celebrated veteran back. The third ball that Ashwin bowled was short of a length, and drew a defensive shot from Sangakkara, which went fast towards Rahul at silly point. Rahul stayed low, pushed his hands in the general direction of the path of the ball, and it stuck in his fingertips. This was no edge, and nor did it come off the pad to soften the impact.
Lahiru Thirimanne looked to block, and captain Mathews - playing his 50th Test - looked to hit a few shots to get the close-in fielders out of his face. Having come together at 27 for 3, they doubled the score before Thirimanne fell to an Ashwin beauty. Until then Thirimanne had faced only four balls from the offspinner, and had looked really comfortable facing only one of them. The fifth one, though, was perfect: nicely flighted, dipping short of Thirimanne's reach, and then turning away to take the edge on a tame push. Poor Mubarak got to face only Ashwin, and the seventh such delivery did not turn, bounced and resulted in a bat-pad catch. Mubarak's duck made it 60 for 5, and the only consolation for the hosts going into lunch was that their last recognised pair were both right-hand batsmen: Mathews and Chandimal.
Soon after lunch, the consolation ended. Ishant bowled beautifully and drew Chandimal's edge with one that held its line, but Wriddhiman Saha dropped an absolute sitter. What is more disturbing for India is that Saha is showing a bit of a tendency to drop the easier ones. That was not the only time India took the eye off the game. Ashwin, 6-1-15-3 now, was taken out of the attack for the other offspinner Harbhajan Singh. It would have been okay to give the fifth bowler a chance had Kohli not persisted with Harbhajan for too long. While Harbhajan showed no patience, often bowling round the wicket, often too straight, Kohli showed remarkable patience as Mathews and Chandimal added 79.
While Chandimal's effort was charmed, Mathews played a calculated and clever innings. He attacked only to get the fielders out, and then picked the ones and twos easily. Finally Kohli gave in, and gave Ashwin the end he had taken the three earlier wickets from. The pay-off was immediate, but it needed an exceptional catch from Rohit. In his second over back, Ashwin got one to dip on Mathews, but the bat-pad looked destined to loop over forward short leg's head. Rohit, though, sprung up, got a hand to it, and ended up deflecting it back towards the wicket. He then dived back against his momentum, and took it one-handed.
The floodgates now opened. Only a breezy 24-run stand between Chandimal and the adventurous Rangana Herath - who scored 23 off 24 - resisted India's march. The innings ended when Herath had had one slog too many, but his real job was only about to begin.
Before Herath and Tharindu Kaushal were asked to do their job, though, Dhammika Prasad and Mathews got rid of Rahul and Rohit. The rest of the bowling, though, failed to test Dhawan and Kohli for long enough. Dhawan and Kohli were prepared to defend and wait for loose balls, which Kaushal in particular provided readily. Dhawan, who scored a hundred in his last Test, went past 50 by stumps, and Kohli looked set to do so. More importantly, India could entertain thoughts of batting only once.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo