A special commemorative coin dedicated to Muttiah Muralitharans records was used for the toss,and it went Sri Lankas way in the off-spinners last Test. Kumar Sangakkara chose the tried and tested method and opted to bat; a strategy that has paid dividends for them over the years on the slow,turning wickets here. Play started half- an-hour late due to overnight rains but Sangakkara was confident that the pitch didnt hold any devil.
The Indian bowlers too didnt produce anything of note at the Galle International Stadium on Sunday.
The Sri Lankans are past masters of occupying the wicket at home and frustrating opposition bowlers. Against a weakened Indian bowling line-up,Sangakkara and Tharanga Paranavitana scored hundreds that set the tone for the series on a rain-curtailed day. Bad light stopped play shortly after tea. Harbhajan Singh,Ishant Sharma,Abhimanyu Mithun and Pragyan Ojha slumped near the boundary. The skies opened and they scurried to the dressing room. The rains must have come as a relief on a day when India picked up just two wickets in 68 overs,and gave away 256 runs .
Right through Sunday,the bowlers failed to apply pressure from both ends. The medium-pacers didnt bowl well in tandem and the spinners were erratic. Ishant Sharma can consider himself unlucky that edges off Paranavitana didnt go to the slips in his first over of the day. Yet,he gave away 41 runs in his first spell of five overs in the first session on the opening day of a Test match.
In his second spell,he gave away 21 runs in four overs,but more than the numbers it was Sharmas inability to trouble the batsmen even during short spells that hurt India. Late in the day,VVS Laxman failed to grab a half-chance offered by Paranavitana. Sharma,who had caught the opener in the ribs a couple of times,grimaced in frustration.
In the morning,when debutant Mithun bowled a sharp spell of four overs,which cost just six runs,Sharma was guilty of not providing support. Skipper MS Dhoni then asked Mithun to bowl from the Fort end and the Karnataka paceman struck immediately as Dilshan didnt control his pull. The short ball was good,but Mithuns limited variety played into the hands of the Sri Lankans. Sangakkara and Paranavitana settled into a rhythm as they built their 181-run stand to make life difficult for the inexperienced Mithun.
Harbhajan Singh,still not 100 per cent fit after being laid low because of flu,and left-arm spinner Ojha,who rarely bowled to his field,went wicketless. Ojha was either too full or wide and both centurions played him with ease off the backfoot. His first ball of the day was short and Sangakkara had no trouble dispatching it to the deep-midwicket boundary. The Sri Lankan skipper hit him for two consecutive boundaries at the beginning of his third spell. By the end of that over,Ojha was going at close to five runs an over,without looking like he was going to take a wicket.
Harbhajan,coach Gary Kirsten said,was only 80 per cent fit. The senior spinner and leader of the pack in this Test too paid the price for bowling a bad ball in between a series of good deliveries. The second wicket went to Virender Sehwag but he deserved little credit as it was Sangakkara who managed to hit an innocuous ball straight to Sachin Tendulkar in the deep.
Dhoni soon opted for a mixed field,which included two short covers and also a silly point and first slip but provided protection in the deep. Gautam Gambhir dropped a sharp chance provided by Paranavitana at silly point off Harbhajan just before lunch. After the break,Dhoni dropped Sangakkara off Sehwag. Paranavitana was on 35 and Sangakkara on 65 when these difficult catches were spilt. The bowlers,though,spent a good part of the day going through the motions,and will now know they are in for long haul in this series.