For the second time in as many Tests, India conceded centuries to the two left-handers in the Sri Lankan top-order to find themselves pushed to a corner after day one of the second Test at the SSC ground.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and India’s poor luck with tosses continued – since Kanpur against Sri Lanka in November, India have lost seven on the trot – in the second indication that the turnaround they so desperately sought was unlikely to materialise in a jiffy.
The first had come long before when both Gautam Gambhir (knee) and Yuvraj Singh (high fever) were ruled out, necessitating the recall of Murali Vijay and a Test debut for Suresh Raina respectively.
Making the most of fantastic batting conditions on a warm, muggy day, Tharanga Paranavitana (100) and Kumar Sangakkara helped themselves to attractive, authoritative centuries like they had on day one of the first Test as the hosts ended proceedings at a dominant 312 for two.
Sri Lanka amazingly revamped their entire bowling attack with no survivors from the victorious first Test, thus offering offie Suraj Randiv, replacing Rangana Herath, a Test debut and recalling Dilhara Fernando, Dammika Prasad and Ajantha Mendis.
Sangakkara is still going strong on 130, with Mahela Jayawardene for company towards a go-slow final phase designed to ensure that the two class acts are around to resume battle on Tuesday.
India bowled as well as could be expected under the circumstances, which isn’t saying much. Ishant Sharma was again profligate with the first new ball before settling down to cause the odd problem.
Abhimanyu Mithun was exceptional at the start, repeatedly getting past the outside edge of Paranavitana, but the slice of luck so essential in these conditions to make early inroads steadfastly eluded the visitors.
Spinners Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh too turned in a far more improved performance as opposed to Galle, keeping a check on the scoring rate when they operated in tandem, but given that India’s best hope – errors in a clutch from the Lankan batting – didn’t eventuate, it was always going to be tough going for Dhoni’s side.
Paranavitana and Sangakkara merely carried on from where they left in Galle. Not for the first time, Tillakaratne Dilshan threw his hand away after a blistering start, totally the dominant partner in an opening stand of 99 (85m, 111b) that ended when the right-hander charged Ojha and struck the ball really hard, only to see VVS Laxman cling on to a stinger at short-cover.
That breakthrough offered India only token relief. Paranavitana alternated between long periods of defence and the occasional show of aggression, while Sangakkara oozed class as he leant beautifully into the ball and drove with élan, emboldened by the knowledge that the possibility of lateral movement was less than zero.
The slightest error in length by the spinners was punished mercilessly on an unforgiving surface by the Lankan skipper, whose off-side play was a sight for sore eyes.
At his best, Sangakkara is poetry in motion; he was seldom less than at his best on Monday, comfortably putting to shade his younger and less illustrious partner who, it must be stressed, held his own despite playing second fiddle.
The avalanche of boundaries that had characterised Dilshan’s cameo gave way to more meticulous accumulation, but neither pace nor spin, neither new ball nor old, made any impression.
First Paranavitana embraced three-figures, then the skipper brought up his 23rd ton before embracing his mate, when a rare lapse in concentration saw Paranavitana edge Ishant on to his stumps. By then, the two had put on 174 (190m, 325b) to go with their 181-run stand in Galle. Jayawardene, who has nine hundreds here and the record at this ground for the most runs by any batsman in Test history at one venue, booked himself in nicely, suggesting another long day out for the visitors.
Disturbingly from an Indian perspective, bowling spearhead Harbhajan has bowled 54.1 overs this series without a solitary success. Not a heartening stat, that.
SRI LANKA (I Innings):
Paranavitana b Ishant 100
(276m, 221b, 10x4, 1x6)
Dilshan c Laxman b Ojha 54
(85m, 42b, 10x4)
Sangakkara (batting) 130
(269m, 225b, 15x4)
M Jayawardene (batting) 13
(78m, 56b, 2x4)
Extras (B-4, LB-6, W-1, NB-4) 15
Total (for 2 wkts, 90 overs) 312
Fall of wickets: 1-99 (Dilshan), 2-273 (Paranavitana).
Bowling: Mithun 17-4-75-0, Ishant 15-4-66-1 (nb-2), Ojha 23-5-59-1 (nb-2), Harbhajan 22-3-61-0 (w-1), Sehwag 9-0-26-0, Raina 4-0-15-0.