Virat Kohli stood tall as India pulled ahead of Sri Lanka on the final day of the opening Test, the home team inducing some panic in the visiting ranks after the captain’s century had dominated proceedings on Monday (November 20) at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
Kohli drove, flicked and cut his way to a commanding 104 not out as India declared their innings on 352 for 8 in 88.4 overs, setting Sri Lanka a target of 231 in a minimum of 47 overs – light permitting. In the seven overs possible before tea, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami struck once each. Sri Lanka reached 8 for 2 at the interval, with Angelo Mathews (5) and Lahiru Thirimanne (2) at the crease. Sri Lanka had lost both openers – Sadeera Samarawickrama and Dimuth Karunratne — playing on, raising visions of an unlikely come-from-behind win by India.
Kohli had walked in early on Monday when KL Rahul become the first of Suranga Lakmal’s victims, and survived some testing periods before cutting loose. Along the way, he also corrected a minor anomaly in his CV by getting his first three-figure score in an Eden Gardens Test, where his previous highest in six innings had been 45. This also was Kohli’s 50th international hundred across formats, with 18 in Tests to add to 32 in One-Day Internationals.
Kohli’s acceleration, prompted by wickets falling and getting enough runs to make India safe, was remarkable. His half-century had come off 80 balls, the next 39 balls brought him 54 runs.
Kohli’s mastery of the bowling meant the initial quiver induced by Lakmal was all but forgotten. Lakmal had prised out Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane in an extended spell in the morning to reduce India to 213 for 4, effectively 91 for 4 given the first-innings deficit. Lakmal snaked through Rahul’s (79) defence with a full, incoming delivery, and a little later, got Pujara with a brute of a ball. It lifted off from short of a length to fly up and catch the bat handle. Dilruwan Perera at gully pulled off a magnificent catch diving in front to send the rock-solid Pujara on his way for 22. Pujara did create his own bit of history though, becoming only the third Indian and ninth man in history to bat on all five days of a Test match. Both ML Jaisimha and Ravi Shastri, the other two Indians to have achieved the feat, did it at the Eden Gardens. Jaisimha did it against Australia in 1959-60 and Shastri, the current coach of the Indian team, in 1984-85 against England.
Four balls after Pujara was out, Lakmal brought one back in to rap Rahane on the pads and send the batsman on his way without having troubled the scorers.
Ravindra Jadeja was promoted to No. 6, but the move didn’t pay off, though he did share in a stabilising 36-run stand with Kohli. Both R Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha too fell cheaply, to Dasun Shanaka, and at that stage, India were 281 for 7, just 159 runs ahead and with enough time left in the match for Sri Lanka to potentially chase a total down if a collapse could follow.
But Kohli took charge in the way only he can, first in a 40-run stand for the eighth wicket in which Bhuvneshwar’s share was just eight, and then in an entertaining phase alongside Shami as both men swung their bats.