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India under tons of runs

cricket Updated: Jul 25, 2008 01:47 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
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On a day of centuries, third umpire reviews and dropped catches, Sri Lanka took a firm grip on the first Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club, a ground they have turned into a fortress of sorts, giving all comers a torrid time. Malinda Warnapura (115) was the first centurion, the twice-reprieved Mahela Jayawardene (136) extended his dream run at the venue but it was Thilan Samaraweera who played the knock of the day, remaining unbeaten on 111. Sri Lanka, 422 for 4, are not done yet, but whenever they relinquish the batting crease, the pressure will be on India's batsmen to deliver and save this game.

On a day when play was extended at both ends to make up for overs lost on Wednesday, India's bowlers sent down 98 overs for meagre returns of two wickets. Warnapura continued from where he left off, scoring freely against Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan, who began the day off the boil. Runs came freely and only when Anil Kumble brought himself on did India impose some control on the scoring rate.

Even when runs dried up, Warnapura occupied the crease purposefully, stretching his partnership with Jayawardene to 155 before India broke through. Warnapura, who got to his second Test century with a slashed drive through gully, was eventually prised out on 115 when he edged Harbhajan Singh into the waiting hands of Rahul Dravid at slip.

Jayawardene, whose last three innings at this ground have been 374, 127 and 195, was let off twice, and that's something you can scarcely do and not be made to pay. On both occasions Dinesh Karthik was the culprit.

While you might sympathise with him for the first chance — Jayawardene, on 55, essayed a cut shot only to manage a bottom edge - there was little hampering Karthik the second time. When Jayawardene was on 93, Kumble, who had induced the first edge, got the batsman playing forward and extracted just enough turn to secure an outside edge. Karthik, perhaps rising too quickly from his crouching stance, fluffed the chance even as Kumble cursed loud and clear.

Cashing in on India's largesse, Jayawardene helped himself to his ninth century at the SSC, equalling Sir Don Bradman's record of maximum Test hundreds at a venue.

If Bradman found the Melbourne Cricket Ground to his liking, it is the SSC that gives Jayawardene the most joy.

There was joy for the Indians, albeit short lived, and a smile on Karthik's face, when Jayawardene, on 136, got a ripper from Ishant that threatened to come in and then just left the bat enough to kiss the outside edge. Karthik completed the catch, ending the hour of Jayawardene, ushering in Samaraweera's time.

From the moment he came out to the middle, the usually dour Samaraweera batted with poise and assurance. Although nowhere near as graceful as Jayawardene, Samaraweera batted efficiently, with correct strokes, sending the ball to all parts of the ground in the course of his hundred.

By some way the most solid of the Sri Lankan batsmen on display, Samaraweera's driving back down the ground and back-foot punches through off side were low-risk and high-yield shots. While he was very clear about which balls he did not want to play, he also did not hesitate in putting away loose deliveries. Ishant was taken for three consecutive boundaries in the 109th over, cut and driven to distraction.

Tillakaratne Dilshan, who became the first player to win a successful appeal with the third umpire, stayed unbeaten on 20 while Samaraweera had 111 to his name as Sri Lanka ended the day on 422 for 4.

For India, it was an utterly forgettable day and one that will remind them just how hard the going can be against Sri Lanka at home. Before this Test Kumble underscored the importance of dominating the hosts early on in the series. The opposite has happened and from here on India will be playing catch-up all Test long. Just how much this bad day will cost them depends on how well they can bat, when their turn comes.