After more than four-and-a-half hours were lost to morning showers, play finally got under way on Wednesday afternoon and the few who had gathered at the Sinhalese Sports Club witnessed the first punches of this three-Test series being traded. Sri Lanka, after choosing to bat, put 85 on the board from the 22 overs that were bowled, and India prised out two wickets, including the crucial one of Kumar Sangakkara early in the innings.
Ishant draws first blood
Ishant Sharma struck the first blow, extracting good bounce with the new ball.
Michael Vandort, playing well away from his body, half-heartedly steered the ball and Dinesh Karthik moved smartly to his left to take a good catch in front of Sachin Tendulkar at first slip. After Vandort’s fall, Malinda Warnapura played some delectable strokes, repeatedly putting away anything on his pads. Even on an outfield slowed by the showers, Warnapura timed the ball sweetly enough to go all the way.
Kumar Sangakkara looked to settle into his groove, playing a peachy on-drive off Zaheer Khan to bring up the Sri Lankan half-century.
But Zaheer, by some way the superior of the two quick men on show, struck back. In his first six luckless overs, Zaheer had repeatedly forced the error, on occasion finding the outside edge only to see the ball fall short of the fielders behind the stumps and on others, beating the bat without inducing the edge. Zaheer’s patience paid off in his seventh over, when he was rewarded with the prize scalp of Sangakkara.
Poking outside off, Sangakkara watched in dismay as the ball moved away off the pitch and took the outside edge. Rahul Dravid, crouching low at slip, waited on the catch and pouched it safely.
Few in today’s age of heavy bats and bottom-handed grips can match the elegance of Mahela Jayawardene on song. He is pleasing to the eye and seems to caress rather than hit the ball, and his calming presence at the crease ensured that Sri Lanka did not lose wickets in a heap.
Leaving the short ball decisively — something Warnapura did not always manage —Jayawardene picked the loose balls with some style, conjuring up images of Aravinda de Silva in his pomp.
Jayawardene loves batting at the SSC as his record at the ground reflects. He has more than 2000 runs to his name at the venue, scored at an average of almost 80, with eight of his 22 hundreds coming here.
Even in conditions not typical — a gentle breeze blew across the ground with the sun losing the battle against fluffy cloud cover — Jayawardene was at ease.
While Jayawardene was the embodiment of calm, Warnapura forced the issue, constantly playing his shots, even if it meant taking a few chances. It was his opportunism that put the runs on the board, with boundaries coming fairly regularly. Spin showed itself in the 22nd over, and Warnapura took that in his stride, paddling Harbhajan Singh round the corner to bring up an important half-century.
Minutes later, bad light brought a premature end to the day’s play. On Sri Lankan pitches it's hard enough to take the 20 wickets needed to win a Test match in five full days. With precious time already lost, and more rain forecast for the next four days, it will take something extraordinary for the match to end decisively.