If this two-day warm-up fixture is a precursor to the real action — the first Test at the Eden Gardens beginning in four days — Sri Lanka are in for the long haul. Sanju Samson’s maiden hundred against an international side at the Jadavpur University’s Salt Lake Campus ground on Sunday was an act of complete dominance over the Lankan bowling. It bordered on arrogance at times, the way he used his feet against the spinners. The bad balls were clobbered and the better deliveries milked.
However, Test matches would be played at a different intensity level. Unlike this game, the visitors won’t use 10 bowlers; many part-timers among them. But Samson looked completely untroubled against frontline operators as well. Rangana Herath bowled only six overs. But Lakshan Sandakan, who could be Sri Lanka’s response to Kuldeep Yadav with both being of the chinaman variety, got a decent workout. The Board President’s XI captain never allowed him to settle and in the end, Sandakan was all over the place, conceding 54 runs in 12 overs.
After Sri Lanka declared on their overnight score of 411 for nine, the Board President’s XI lost two early wickets. Lahiru Gamage worked up good pace and removed Tanmay Agarwal and Anmolpreet Singh. Samson came and added 68 runs with Jiwanjot Singh for the third wicket. The specialist bowlers were in action during that period. Suranga Lakmal stuck to a probing off-stump line. Vishwa Fernando tried to hit the deck hard. The hallmark of Samson’s batting was that he played the ball on merit. The arc between cover and mid-off was his main scoring region. He also played a couple of lovely pulls against Fernando.
Samson had a difficult last season. The Kerala Cricket Association issued a show-cause notice to him for alleged indiscipline. He was subsequently dropped for a Ranji Trophy match against Tripura. But the 23-year-old ‘keeper-batsman showed character to bounce back and have a good IPL, where he scored a century and two half-tons. In the Ranji Trophy this term, he has scored 318 runs in four matches, including a hundred.
The Board President’s XI captaincy was thrown upon him at the eleventh hour, after Naman Ojha pulled out. Ahead of the match, Samson spoke about taking the opportunity very seriously. He walked the talk. His ‘keeping was tidy. His batting, with his team under pressure, was positive. A couple off Dhananjaya de Silva took him to three figures. He belted the next delivery over deep mid-wicket for a six. Samson’s 143-ball 128 had 19 fours and that maximum.
Samson made his T20 International debut in Zimbabwe in 2015 but somewhat fell off the Team India radar after that. But with the present selection committee ready to experiment in the shorter formats, Samson might hope again, subject to his consistency. “I’m happy to score my first ‘international’ hundred. But I’m just thinking about performing consistently,” he said after the match. In the grand scheme of things, Samson’s knock, especially his batting against Sandakan, might force the visitors to rethink their plans. Sandakan is Sri Lanka’s third spinner behind Herath and Dilruwan Perera. He can offer variety. But control appears an issue. “It depends; whether we will play him (Sandakan) or not (in Tests). We will decide to have that extra spinner just a day before the match. (But) control is an area which we have certainly talked about. He needs to improve on it a little bit. It’s a confidence thing. Once he gets the confidence he will be fine,” Sri Lanka bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake said. Today, Samson didn’t allow Sandakan to build confidence.
Mathews not to bowl
Although Sri Lanka used 10 bowlers, Angelo Mathews didn’t roll his arm over. The former Sri Lanka captain hasn’t bowled in the longer format since January after suffering a torn hamstring. He missed the Test series against Pakistan with a calf strain. “He (Mathews) hasn’t bowled in Tests for a while. I don’t think he will bowl, that I know for sure. We take him as a white-ball bowler. We will be looking for him to bowl only in the ODIs,” Ratnayake said. If Mathews plays as a specialist batsman, the tourists need to have someone to fill the all-rounder’s slot in a likely 7-4 combination. Ratnayake backed Dasun Shanaka and Dhananjaya de Silva for the job, and also uncapped Roshen Silva. Shanaka bowls medium pace and Dhananjaya is a spin-bowling all-rounder. While the former has played only one Test, Dhananjaya’s Test (10 matches) bowling average is 65.60. Brief scores: Sri Lanka 411/9 decl. drew with Board President’s XI 287/5 in 75 overs (S Samson 128; L Gamage 2/41)