Mahendra Singh Dhoni is not used to losing Test matches when leading the Indian side. But when it comes to the toss, the Indian skipper is far from being the boss. He extended his six-match toss-losing spree to seven on Monday morning.
If that wasn’t a surprise, neither was Kumar Sangakkara’s decision to bat first for the third time in as many matches. But there were other surprises in the offing on the first day of India’s must-win Test against Sri Lanka at the P Sara Oval.
First, the wicket was offering movement, bounce and also some turn, unlike the ones at Galle and the SSC. Then, also unlike the first two Tests, India struck in the opening spell of the game with the red cherry. The visitors had seen the back of both the openers at lunch.
And that’s not the end. Thanks to Sangakkara throwing his wicket away in the second session, for the first time in the series, the wicket column changed in the post-lunch session. As a result, neither opener Tharanga Paranavitana nor Sangakkara – both of whom had celebrated their centuries on the opening day at Galle and SSC – walked back to the pavilion without adding another to their kitty. To top it all, with Pragyan Ojha growing in confidence after Sangakkara’s dismissal, India added a fourth Sri Lankan wicket.
However, despite losing four wickets, Sri Lanka still held the upper hand at the end of the opening day. With Thilan Samaraweera (65 not out) and Angelo Mathews (26 not out) having already added 52 runs for the fifth wicket, Sri Lanka finished the day at 293 for four.
What was most obvious again was the inability of the Indian bowlers to pressurise the Lankan batting – a constant throughout the series. Despite Ishant Sharma and Abhimanyu Mithun bowling impressive spells first up, with the former forcing Paranavitana to nick one to Dhoni early on, the spinners could not restrict the run-flow.
Ojha looked impressive, especially after Sangakkara holed out, off his bowling, to Virender Sehwag at long-on. Amit Mishra though was as disappointing as he was in the warm-up game before the Test.
With a lot of wrist work involved while delivering, leg-spinners tend to bowl about one loose ball an over. Mishra, on the other hand, only bowled about one good ball an over. His half-a-dozen no-balls did not help the cause either.
However, had an overenthusiastic Suresh Raina not gotten in VVS Laxman’s way and dropped a Sangakkara edge, the picture could have been different. The southpaw was on 23 then and took the attack to both the spinners till he threw it away.