Sri Lanka v India, 2nd Test, Colombo, 1st day August 3, 2017

Pujara, Rahane tons power India to 344 for 3

Stumps India 344 for 3 (Pujara 128*, Rahane 103*) v Sri Lanka

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Maharoof: Sri Lanka can't let India reach 500

In addition to all the runs, a contest came India's way in Colombo, and they were ready for it thanks to the aptitude of Ajinkya Rahane and the appetite of Cheteshwar Pujara. Centuries from two of India's top five and 344 first-innings runs by stumps on the first day is exactly the position a team 1-0 up in a three-match series would want. Especially on a pitch that doted on the spinners.

The conditions - nowhere near drastic, but certainly challenging - fostered high-quality cricket. The scoring rate was a healthy 3.8 per over, but the outside and inside edges of the Indian batsmen bore more red marks than they had done in Galle. Only one of them proved fatal, though - the captain Virat Kohli was caught splendidly by Angelo Mathews at slip for 13 off Rangana Herath. The rest were smuggled wide of the fielders skillfully and carefully. And with time, they disappeared completely.

At the forefront of this operation was a man nominated for the Arjuna award, on the day he was playing his 50th Test, securing his 4000th run and his 13th century. Pujara found the spotlight rather amenable and he put on display all the qualities that have made him a magnet for runs.

He was unflappable, putting behind him a mix-up that led to KL Rahul's run-out for 57. He was game-aware, for that wicket had led to another, pushing India from 109 for 1 to 133 for 3. But mindful of not letting the opposition get on a roll, he accelerated from 14 off 58 at lunch to 89 off 140 at tea and finished unbeaten on 128 at stumps.

Rahane at the other end found his timing straightaway and took time out of his schedule to put on a batting clinic, shifting deep in his crease to whip anything even slightly short through midwicket, and wading down the pitch upon the first sign of flight to hit down the ground. It was the kind of counterattack Mitchell Johnson and Australia had faced in Melbourne in 2014. And it appears there is plenty more to come. That moment early in day, when Dilruwan Perera won a review to trap Shikhar Dhawan lbw for 35, almost seemed like a dream.

Things could have been so different. Sri Lanka armed themselves with three spinners, but barring Perera, who threatened both edges of the bat with his drift and turn, they couldn't manufacture enough pressure to worry the Indians. But they did try.

Pujara, with a reputation for annoying spinners in the same way as a pop quiz on Friday evening, nearly edged to slip when on 1 and only just avoided short-leg's hands in the last over before lunch. He spent 30 balls without scoring after being beaten by Herath in the 21st over. But none of that perturbed him. He waited for the mistakes, he suckered some of them into coming his way with his constant forays down the pitch and went to tea with 70 runs off his latest 71 balls.

While there was a six during this spree, his best shot was a cover drive, for not only did it exemplify his swiftness down the pitch, but also the ability to counter a misbehaving ball. It was the 42nd over and Pujara was halfway down when he realised Perera had managed to drift it away from his reach. But by adjusting his momentum and stretching his front leg a little further across, he got close enough to the ball to thump it with a straight bat.

Rahane offered a different challenge with his sense for the ball and silken timing. And they were both so good that he didn't need to worry unduly about getting right to the pitch of the ball or waiting patiently for the rank long hop, and put away even the good balls. He whipped the bowlers through midwicket (18 runs), launched them through or over cover (26) and drummed them down the ground (34) with ridiculous ease. Protecting so many parts of the ground proved futile for the Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal.

Rahul might well have enjoyed his team-mates' success, but for the longest time it seemed like he would be the first to reach a hundred. He had spent his first few days on the tour locked in hospital, staring at fluorescent lights. He had been told he would have the chance to finally play some cricket, out in the sun, with fresh air and no doctors. So naturally he wanted to stay outside for as long as possible and so well was he accomplishing that aim that he scored his sixth successive fifty in Test cricket, equalling the Indian record set by GR Viswanath and Rahul Dravid, playing some superb shots. There was a short-arm pull against debutant Malinda Pushpakumara over deep midwicket when the length invited that shot about as much as a cactus tempts a person to sit on it.

But a mix-up - Rahul hit to short cover and wanted the single, Pujara did too, then he changed his mind - and Rahul was forced back indoors, under the glare of the fluorescent lights again.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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