The Curator of Galle’s notorious turners, Jayanda Warnaweera, is conspicuous by his absence these days, as he is banned from entering the stadium over an alleged fixing scandal. The souvenir-crammed room with antique furniture where he engaged all and sundry with loud brags and conceited tales remains locked for most part of the day. His successor Godfrey Dabare, a former academy coach, is soft-spoken and indifferent. The strip he has dished out for the India-Sri Lanka Test, too, has been benign, bereft of the scary dark parches that psyched out the Australians last year.
There are hushed grouses about the strip, that it offered negligible help to the Sri Lankan spinners on the first day, that a turn-from-ball-one sort of pitch offered them a better chance of denting India, and that Warnaweera would have been more considerate. But much as they carp about the indifference of the pitch, they should blame their own lack of application and execution of plans, throughout the first day and for most part of the second, for their plight.
They can also glean a few instructive points from India’s bowling manual.
You can counter that India possessed a more pedigreed fast bowling stock, a vastly better second spinner, and Sri Lanka’s batting line-up was callow. But it wasn’t just about superior options or talent India has at its disposal, but rather how well they collectively and systematically plotted Sri Lanka’s implosion. If at times, Sri Lanka betrayed an impression that only Nuwan Pradeep seemed inclined to interrogate the Indian batsmen, India’s bowlers seemed in a tearing hurry to out-do each other. They are, of course, cushioned by a monstrous first innings total, and the bottled-up nervous energy accumulated over all those overs lounging in the dressing room.
Even before the Sri Lankan openers strode onto the wicket, an hour into the second session, Mohammed Shami was warming up restlessly, waiting for the batsman. The first ball was an errant bouncer down the leg-side, but that was pretty much the only loose ball he bowled the entire day. He immediately corrected his length and beat the lazy stab of Dimuth Karunaratne. The follow-up ball was a better-directed bouncer, then a short-of-length delivery slithering across, then a full ball at almost the same line before he reverted to back-of-length. His frequent mixing up of length confused Lanka’s top order, as they were uncertain whether to play him going back or forward. They did neither, instead tried to play him from the crease, and thus were ill-equipped to deal with anything he bowled. This lack of clarity was ruthlessly exposed.
A new-ball tag team
At the other end, Umesh Yadav was flinging full and at searing pace. So they were not just dealing with two different types of operators but those that manoeuvred entirely differently. Yadav was pacy, bowling full and seaming the ball back into the left-handers. Shami was mixing up his length and slanting the delivery across them. One was threatening the stumps, the other the outside edge. Yadav embodied in-your-face aggression. Shami was winding them up before the kill. The puzzled Sri Lankan openers, Danushka Gunathilka and Karunaratne, went blank. It’s this practical nous that the Sri Lankan bowlers didn’t demonstrated. Yadav nailed Karunaratne in his first over, the fullish ball shaping a trifle late into the batsman. Shami continuously questioned their discretion outside the off-stump.
Though India went a little flat after the initial burst, especially after Upul Tharanga began to thread a few gaps, both intentionally and accidentally, they were quick to recoup and wade their way out of looming trouble. It was exactly the position Sri Lanka were in on the first day, but they impassively let Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara off the hook. But Kohli didn’t let the game drift, like Herath. He didn’t consign his fielders to far-flung outposts. He re-commissioned Shami, and in the first over of his second spell, he purchased a brace of wickets to disarray the hosts, reaping the reward for pressing and probing the corridor relentlessly. The wickets put a break on the scoring too.
At no point did Sri Lanka bowl impressively in tandem – worse still, they often bowled terribly in pairs, besides the first hour of the morning when Herath and Pradeep bowled with persistent precision and penetration. They were also strangely fixated with bowling short balls, which on a sluggish pitch as this gave batsmen ample time to weave away or slap it. Maybe, they were encouraged by Kohli’s dismissal, but a short ball on a really slow pitch is wasteful, unless deployed judiciously, like a novelty. Umesh and Shami did exactly this, using bouncers as a surprise weapon.
Later in the evening, Ravichandran Ashwin handed out Herath the blueprint to bowl on this surface. Unlike Herath, who was inexplicably one-dimensional, his one wicket costing 159 runs, Ashwin was more imaginative. He found the vital ingredient that Herath couldn’t, drift, aided by a gentle cross-wind. He teased the batsmen by mixing up lengths by slim margins and varying the pace. Subsequently, he extracted turn, sometime made the ball spit off the surface, which Herath or Dilruwan Perera couldn’t. Though he purchased just a wicket, he looked the most penetrative bowler from either side, capable of bringing the match to a premature end, more so as the sun-dried surface threw up distinct signs of crumbling.
In the end, Sri Lanka should rather rue their inefficiency than gripe about the pitch and the curator.