Instead of having a beach party on a weekend, residents of the picnic town headed to the Galle International Stadium to salute their beloved off-spinner one last time as Muttiah Muralitharan was to make his final appearance in white flannels.
Though they got a glimpse of Murali only before the day’s play started, when the Sri Lankan sports minister presented him a memento for his contribution, none of the spectators would have complained as they headed home an hour earlier than the scheduled close.
The cloudburst may have started late in the third session, but for almost five hours before that runs poured for the Lankan top-order as the hosts finished the opening day of the first Test against India at 256 for two.
With a jaded bowling attack, the last thing India needed was to lose the toss and be made to bowl first. But the special coin for the toss, with Murali’s face on one side and some of his special stats inscribed on the other, rolled in Sangakkara’s favour and the he had no hesitation in electing to bat.
From then on, for the best part of 68 overs, it was an inexorable struggle for the Indian bowlers till bad light and a downpour came to their rescue.
While Ishant Sharma had looked the best of the lot that featured in last week’s warm-up match, when it came to leading the charge, the lanky paceman failed. He bowled either too full or too short throughout the day, which reflected thoroughly in his bowling analysis. In his 14 overs, the pacer conceded almost a run a ball, something that’s unexpected of someone leading an attack.
Once Ishant leaked 41 runs in his first five overs, the pressure that debutant Abhimanyu Mithun had built from the other end was of little use. After bowling a tight opening spell that read 4-1-6-0, Mithun, the pick of the bowlers, changed ends and got rid of the dangerous Tillakaratne Dilshan (25) off the very first ball of his next spell. Dilshan tried to hook the short one, but only managed to get glove to the ball on its way to Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s gloves.
Had Dhoni been able to latch on to an edge off Sangakkara’s (103) willow off Virender Sehwag midway through the second session, the Indians may have been able to get back into the game. The Sri Lankan skipper, who was on 65 then, not only celebrated his 22nd Test ton but also put on 181 runs with opener Tharanga Paranavitana (110 not out), before holing out to midwicket. For Paranavitana, it was a red letter day as he registered his maiden Test ton.
With only Harbhajan Singh, playing despite recovering from a bacterial infection, succeeding in preventing the Sri Lankan duo from scoring freely, the Indian team have a huge task ahead of them if they are to prevent the home team from putting up a huge total on the second day.