India came into the final Test in the quest to make history but if the first day was any indication then one fears that some of the big names may merely be hastening their exit from international duty.
After winning an important toss and choosing to bat on a pitch that facilitated neither alarming bounce nor exaggerated lateral movement, India’s top order failed spectacularly.
That they even made it to 249 was thanks only to Gautam Gambhir (72) and a 51-run last-wicket partnership. And yes, Ajantha Mendis did pick up five wickets once more.
The Law of Averages is meant to catch up and it did in one way in that Virender Sehwag could not keep up the momentum he and Gambhir have offered. Sehwag made debutant Dhammika Prasad’s day, feathering an edge to the ’keeper. While not express pace, Prasad had just enough to hurry the batsman on occasions.
Gambhir, using his feet to shuffle down to the pacers, scored freely both in front of the wicket and through the gully-point region, but the story was different at the other end.
Rahul Dravid was caught on the crease by an incoming delivery and a vociferous appeal was turned down by Mark Benson.
When the third umpire had a look, though, there wasn’t sufficient evidence to rule in Dravid’s favour. Sachin Tendulkar went the Dravid way playing down the wrong line to a ball destined for the stumps. In his case, though, the umpire upheld the bowler’s appeal right away and Tendulkar’s plea for a referral could not save him. Prasad had whipped out three of the top order as India slipped to 102 for three.
Sourav Ganguly played himself in and then took on Mutthiah Muralitharan in style, coming down the pitch and lofting him over long-off. But he could not go on, falling as he has all series, opening his bat’s face and edging one to slip.
Gambhir, who had looked by some way the most comfortable of the batsmen, just failed to get his bat down in time against Mendis and paid the price. Although there was doubt about whether the offbreak had pitched in line, a quick look from the third umpire confirmed that it had, and once more the referral provided India no relief.
When VVS Laxman overbalanced to a carom ball, Prasanna Jayawardene had the bails off in a flash. With Laxman gone, the middle-order had failed once again. Considering each had five turns to bat, Dravid (80 runs), Tendulkar (81) and Ganguly (78) can now offer little by way of excuse or explanation.
Fortunately, some pride was salvaged by Ishant Sharma (17* off 61 balls) and Zaheer Khan (32 off 73). Sri Lanka wiped out 14 runs off the deficit, losing Malinda Warnapura, but they will sleep well, knowing that India squandered the significance of winning the toss and batting first.
How ever the pitch plays from here on, India will be sprinting to just keep up, and a small lead could make a big difference.
And Mendis, who has 23 wickets so far in the series, needs one wicket to go past Alec Bedser’s record of maximum wickets in a three-Test debut series.
Given the way the Indians have played him so far, there's little doubt that history will be made in his case, at least.