Rows of men spread around the vast SSC outfield on Friday, manually manoeuvring the collected rainwater off the covers so as to ensure there is no spillage. From the top it was almost like watching a swarm of bees going about their business with precision and impeccable enterprise.
It’s safe to say that the ground-staff across all venues in Sri Lanka often are better forecasters of rain than even the MET department. They are also arguably the most hard-working, and as a unit the most well-oiled in the world. It has as much to do with their rather ingenious techniques at covering grounds as it is in their even more unique fashion of draining the water off them.
The third Test was all of 15 overs old, with India at 50/2—where they would finish eventually—when it arrived. This wasn’t just a heavy shower. It was an apocalyptic downpour with thunder bellowing in the background, and the sky turning eerily grey.
In a space of 15 minutes, the SSC had turned into Mumbai’s Sion-Trombay road with puddles spread around at every nook and corner, even as the ground-staff were scurrying to reduce their frequency.
But if by 2 pm, it was the ground-staff treading around the SSC with great caution and tact, the Indian batsmen had been put through a similarly stringent test when it was their time to occupy the middle of the SSC for what turned out to be an action-packed hour and a half.
The pitch was green, the toss was lost, and the ball was playing tricks. And off only the second delivery he faced, KL Rahul had shouldered arms to a sharp in-swinger from Dhammika Prasad and had seen his stumps disturbed. Not for the first time—the highest opening partnership across both teams is 15—India had lost an opener at the very start.
In walked Ajinkya Rahane, the No.3 slot no longer looking too alien for him. But he didn’t hang around for too long either, trapped on the pads by an in-swinger that pitched full and missed Rahane’s angled bat to hit him in front. India were 14/2, with stand-in opener Cheteshwar Pujara at the crease and skipper Virat Kohli walking in. This was like P’Sara Oval all over again. There was to be another co-incidence too.
There’s been a huge outcry for the exciting Kusal Perera to replace the aging Jehan Mubarak. And those cries only got louder after the beanpole left-hander dropped a sitter in the first session of the second Test to give Rahul, who eventually scored a century, a chance at the start of his innings. At SSC, Perera was finally roped in for his Test debut. And almost in a form of strange poetic justice, he pulled off a Mubarak by letting slip a very straightforward opportunity with India once again on the ropes.
Only that Kohli was the batsman on this occasion. But a diving Perera grabbed at it, and the ball smashed him on the wrist and bounced off. Once again Sri Lanka had happily let India slip away, and by the time the rains came Kohli and Pujara had settled into a good rhythm, moving to 14 and 19.
There was a period, brief one, where a resumption of play did seem plausible. But just when the ground-staff had just cleared the last of the rainwater, the heavens opened again at around 3.30 pm.
Scoreboard: India innings: KL Rahul b Prasad 2 (2), C Pujara not out 19 (42b, 2×4), A Rahane lbw Pradeep 8 (13b, 2×4), V Kohli not out 14 (3b, 2×4); SL bowling: D Prasad 4-0-16-1, N Pradeep 6-0-16-1, A Mathews 4-2-7-0, R Herath 1-0-6-0