Shikhar Dhawan smashed a powerful 190 off 168-balls to make his Test comeback a memorable one in the ongoing Test against Sri Lanka at Galle. Dhawan steered India to a commanding position with an emphatic knock at the top and laid the foundation for a massive first innings total against a bowling attack, which was led by Rangana Herath. This was probably one of the greatest comebacks in the history of Test cricket and Dhawan would certainly be disappointed for not reaching the 200-run mark. He fell short of 10 runs but got the job done after the early dismissal of Abhinav Mukund.
Had Murali Vijay been fit, Dhawan in all likeliness wouldn’t have been a part of the Indian squad. In the recently concluded Champions Trophy, Dhawan was exceptional and rose to occasion in the big league. The southpaw proved his worth by finishing as the highest run-scorer in the tournament with 338 runs to his name. He has been on a roll in the recent times and has been grabbing every opportunity coming his way. Murali Vijay failed to recover from the wrist injury and Dhawan was named as a replacement in the Test squad.
Few days ago, Dhawan had different plans and would have hardly thought he will get to play a Test match at the picturesque Galle. But here he is, scripting records with the bat. His 190 off 168 balls came at a strike-rate of 113.09, is the second best in terms of strike rate for an Indian batsman for an innings of 150 and above. The red cherry kissed the boundary on 31 occasions from Dhawan’s willow. This is also his best innings total in Test cricket.
There is always huge pressure mounting on a cricketer, who is making a comeback. But Dhawan gave an impression that he had been a regular on the side. He showed a lot of intent in this innings and looked composed right from the outset. Though he was lucky to get a reprieve while batting on 31 but capitalised on it and looked hungry for success. Dhawan edged one to Asela Gunaratne, which he dropped at second slip off Lahiru Kumara but was astute enough to make the most of the life granted. Gunaratne also injured himself while trying cup the catch and his participation in the rest of the series is now in jeopardy.
India opted to bat first after winning the toss. Sri Lankan pacers were doing a decent job as Abhinav Mukund and Shikhar Dhawan were trying to bid their time in the middle and see off the new ball. This is also one of the toughest jobs in Test cricket – playing out the new ball. Dhawan looked extremely comfortable and had no trouble in middling the ball whatsoever. He showed some good awareness by rotating the strike with deft touches and solid back foot punches and defence to get to the other end. Abhinav Mukund nicked one to the wicketkeeper off Nuwan Pradeep and Sri Lanka drew the first blood. In came Cheteshwar Pujara. Dhawan remained unaffected by this dismissal and showed solid determination.
There was hardly any turn for the spinners to exploit, which was expected by looking at the pitch during the toss. Dhawan being a left-hander, Rangana Herath introduced off-spin of Dilruwan Perera in the seventh over. But Dhawan welcomed the off-spinner with a boundary by using his strong wrists to pierce the gap between mid-on and mid-wicket. He not just negotiated the spinners but dominated them. He often shimmied down the wicket to get to the pitch of the ball, which was one of the key reasons behind his success. Despite the ball moving away from him, Dhawan trusted the surface and made good use of his feet. The first ball off Perera’s second over was also smashed for a boundary as Dhawan came down the track to execute a wonderful cover-drive.
One of the highlights from Dhawan’s innings was his blistering strike-rate. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if one said, Dhawan played as this was a One-Day International (ODI) innings. He reached his fifty in just 62 deliveries and took 48 more deliveries to garner the next 50. Dhawan got to his fifth Test ton when he swept Dilruwan Perera for another boundary, he achieved it in 110 deliveries. The dressing room applauded Dhawan’s century and was happy to see him rediscover his mojo. The smiling assassin was all set to launch an attack on Sri Lankan bowlers and his hunger was not satisfied yet. Dhawan was pouncing on loose deliveries and shifted to another gear. He got his next 50 runs in just 37 deliveries and reached the 150-run milestone in 147 deliveries.
From this juncture, a double ton looked achievable as Dhawan was going berserk out in the middle. When Dhawan scored a boundary of the fifth ball of 50th over from Herath, he had scored 100 runs in a session, which is rare. in fact, he scored 126 runs in the second session, which is the second-highest by an Indian batsman in one session. Dhawan kept bettering his strike-rate after achieving every milestone. Dhawan overhauled his previous best Test score of 187 and got the next 40 runs off just 20 deliveries (excluding the one he got out to). Sri Lankan bowlers were running out of options when Nuwan Pradeep provided Sri Lanka with the much-needed breakthrough. Just when he was 10 runs short of achieving a double ton, Dhawan danced down the track and mishit a delivery straight to mid-off.
Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara stitched 253-runs partnership between them, with the former being the tormentor-in-chief. Dhawan was equally supported by Pujara at the other end; India had 280 runs on the board when the southpaw was dismissed. Dhawan not only played the spinners well but dominated them in their own den. He scored heavily against both the spinners – Herath and Perera. To be precise, Dhawan scored 51 runs off 34 deliveries against Herath and 56 off 64 against Perera. He scored runs in all the parts of the ground further giving a testament of the variety of strokes he has in his artillery.
India are well placed at 399 for 3 at stumps on Day 1 with Ajinkya Rahane and Pujara being the night watchmen. Dhawan’s innings have given India the momentum and are now in a commanding position. As of now, Dhawan has made his case stronger for the opening slot with a scintillating knock and the competition has now become tougher.