Honours even on engrossing opening day

India hit back through Bhajji after Dilshans splendid ton

Honours even on engrossing opening day

Lankan batsman Tilakratne Dilshan celebrates after completing a century. AP
An absorbing first day of the final Test, highlighted by Tillakaratne Dilshan’s sixth century of the year, left neither Sri Lanka nor India holding the decisive advantage. Desperately seeking victory to square the series, the visitors finished proceedings on 366 for eight, a tally that did perfect justice to the not uneven contest between scything willow and turning ball.

As if to reiterate the point that pitch-reading is nothing if not fraught with danger, there was little assistance for the quicks apart from a brief early period once Kumar Sangakkara opted to bat on winning his first toss of the series.

Temporary help

Neither Zaheer Khan nor S Sreesanth made use of that temporary help, allowing Tharanga Paranavitana to rediscover run-scoring ways and Dilshan to do the early running. Mahendra Singh Dhoni had no option but to turn to Harbhajan Singh, and spin, inside the first over, and within an over, the turning ball was in evidence.

For most of the remainder of the first session and early in the second, the ball spun like a top. As mid-afternoon gave way to early evening, however, the turn was less pronounced, which is why Sri Lanka will look back on their total with mixed feelings.

True bounce

The true bounce with which the ball gushed on to the bat and a lightning quick outfield meant there was great value for strokes. Sri Lanka will rue missing a wonderful opportunity to bat big, and only once, after gifting away wickets at various stages of the day, thereby ensuring that Indian shoulders didn’t droop for long periods.

 Apart from the stand-out Dilshan (109, 278m, 160b, 10x4, 2x6), Sri Lanka’s other star was Angelo Mathews, the right-handed all-rounder who hasn’t had a great time of it with either bat or ball. Under some pressure, Mathews responded in brilliant fashion, determined to cash in on the impetus provided by Dilshan without embracing any of the faulty stroke selection of some of his colleagues, notably the Jayawardene duo of Mahela and Prasanna.

 Wednesday provided another example of Dilshan’s growing maturity as an international batsman. The free-stroking right-hander is a blithe spirit, a naturally fluent striker of the cricket ball. Denied a lot of the strike when he and Paranavitana provided the Lankans with their best start of the series, 93 (95m, 121b), the 33-year-old kept his wits about him, never too aggressive but unafraid to lash out when the ball demanded treatment. On his way to an 11th Test ton, Dilshan became the third Sri Lankan to reach 1000 runs this calendar year, after Thilan Samaraweera and Mahela Jayawardene.

Mathews too loves to keep the score board ticking over. Under personal and team pressure – Sri Lanka had just lost two wickets in four deliveries to slip to 188 for four – he steadied the ship in Dilshan’s company, and did so with exemplary assurance. Even as Harbhajan continued to pose occasional questions, Mathews had an answer every single time.

Extended first spell

Harbhajan (4/107) bowled as beautifully in an extended first spell of 14-2-41-1 as Sreesanth did during an afternoon burst of 5-1-7-1 when he dismissed Mahela to an ill-advised pull. Otherwise, India’s bowling alternated between the ragged and the lacklustre as Harbhajan and Pragyan Ojha bowled on both sides of the wicket, and the pacers failed to procure the purchase they had been expected to.

Dilshan and Mathews had put on 74 untroubled runs when Nigel Llong came up with a shocker, ruling the former caught at short leg off Harbhajan when the ball struck only pad. Undaunted, Sri Lanka pieced together another stand of some substance – they had four half-century partnerships but none touching three-figures – through Mathews and Prasanna until a rash of wickets towards the end brought India back into the game.

 Thursday could provide the best batting conditions of the match. How India’s batsmen shape up on day two will decide the destination of this Test.

Score board

SRI LANKA (I Innings):
Paranavitana c Dravid b Harbhajan    53
(95m, 81b, 7x4)
Dilshan c Vijay b Harbhajan    109
(278m, 160b, 10x4, 1x6)
Sangakkara c Dhoni b Ojha    18
(35m, 35b, 2x4)
M Jayawardene c Sehwag b Sreesanth    29
(67m, 63b, 4x4)
Samaraweera c Vijay b Harbhajan    1
(5m, 2b)
Mathews (batting)    86
(183m, 119b, 13x4)
P Jayawardene c Harbhajan b Ojha    43
(61m, 47b, 6x4, 1x6)
Kulasekara c Dhoni b Zaheer    12
(27m, 15b, 3x4)
Herath c Dravid b Harbhajan    1
(12m, 12b)
Muralitharan (batting)    0
(6m, 4b)
Extras (B-4, LB-4, W-2, NB-4)    14
Total (for 8 wkts, 89 overs)    366
Fall of wickets: 1-93 (Paranavitana), 2-128 (Sangakkara), 3-187 (M Jayawardene), 4-188 (Samaraweera), 5-262 (Dilshan), 6-329 (P Jayawardene), 7-359 (Kulasekara), 8-362 (Herath).
Bowling: Zaheer 19-2-70-1 (w-1, nb-4), Sreesanth 14-1-66-1 (w-1), Harbhajan 29-2-107-4, Ojha 23-1-97-2, Yuvraj 4-0-18-0.

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