Considering the damp green pitch at Eden Gardens, it was almost a certainty that India captain Virat Kohli will employ three seamers for the first Test against Sri Lanka. Playing an extra bowler in the form of Bhuvneshwar Kumar meant leaving out Rohit Sharma from the side. But the strong middle-order comprising of experienced Ajinkya Rahane and in-form Cheteswar Pujara would not have left the skipper worried.
On a day marred by rain, Kohli’s men found themselves stumbling; almost battling it out to survive on the crease as Sri Lanka bowlers, led by Suranga Lakmal, kept them on their toes. With humidity, damp green pitch and dark skies, winning the toss and electing to field made it half the battle won for the visitors.
India, which had been spoilt for choices in terms of opening batsmen, decided to go with the left-right combination of KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan, which meant returning Murali Vijay was left out. With the cloudy weather already having an impact on the light, Kohli would have wanted his openers to resist in challenging conditions.
Sri Lanka’s Suranga Lakmal had other plans. Lakmal was not a part of Sri Lankan team set up which played against India at home and he showed what the hosts could have missed in the home series.
Making full use of the conditions, Lakmal produced a brilliant first delivery to Rahul, which fell just outside off and forced him to edge it to the wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella. The crowd, which had waited with bated breath for four hours for the match to begin, went silent. Rahul did not expect to be welcomed by such a ruthless delivery. Neither did the crowd. It was a shocking turn of events for the home side which had been expecting an easy series against the neighbours. But the seamer was just starting.
Lakmal continued to trouble the Indian top-order with speedy, full-length deliveries in probing channel. Pujara and Dhawan tried to steady innings for a while before Dhawan became his second victim of the day as he misjudged a length ball and tried to slice it away, only to get his stumps knocked down. Soon after, the skipper himself was sent back to the hut for a duck when an incoming delivery hit him in line of the stumps.
It’s very easy for a bowler to get carried away when conditions like Thursday are on offer. While his new ball partner Lahiru Gamage did, Lakmal didn’t. He hit the right areas and exploited the conditions with perfection. The seamer bowled six overs, didn’t concede a single run and removed the Indian top-order.
Chandimal gave him a lot of support with attacking fields and plenty of men in catching positions. With the pitch not expected to change much for the second day, Lakmal will be raring to have a go at the Indian middle-order. India have some batting to come but they have to bat really well to survive the opening hour of day’s play on Friday.