VVS Laxman had wanted to bat first in the Duleep Trophy match against Sri Lanka A and that’s what he got despite losing the toss on Saturday.
He hadn’t bargained for what followed as a sensational spell of fast bowling by Akalanka Ganegama ripped the heart out of South Zone’s strong batting line-up in almost no time.
Making full use of the early morning moisture on the Eden Gardens pitch and the hardness of the new ball, the 25-year-old reduced Laxman’s team to 14 for five by the seventh over.
South recovered beyond their own imagination courtesy Arjun Yadav’s unbeaten 133 and with the Sri Lankans reaching 36 for one at stumps, returned to the hotel thinking it isn’t all over yet.
There was appreciable seam movement in the first hour and that’s when Ganegama ensured that the islanders were emphatic winners in the first round of this virtual semi-final.
He was fast and did not get carried away with the bounce he got in the first spell. Bowling at a full length just outside off stump, the bowler with the experience of four ODIs got the ball move in either direction and the Southerners were in for some early hostility.
After Dhammika Prasad sent back Dinesh Kaarthick without much for the third time in succession as opener in the second over of the day, the gangling bowler with long and curly locks, threatened to bowl South out of the match with two-wicket bursts in his third and fourth overs.
Laxman poked at one outside off without getting close to it, two of his teammates fell to some late and away movement, while Venugopal Rao got a vicious first one that jagged back some way to hit the off stump.
There was no hint this would be followed by some loose cricket from Sri Lanka A after a spell of resistance from Yadav and S Badrinath.
Badrinath dominated the 66-run sixth-wicket stand with some sparkling drives but paid for trying one too many, against leg-spinner Upul Chandana, to one that had spun away.
Former India off-spinner Shivlal Yadav’s son took over from 80 for six and handed his team a lifeline by raising 186 runs for the last four wickets.
The right-hander who will be 25 in December had little to show for in his 44-match first-class career spanning seven years. His second century at this level was in complete contrast with his average and belied his limitations as a batsman.
There was no hitting in desperation, as can happen while batting with tail-enders, and when given a chance, Yadav played the lofted drives, cuts and slog-sweeps with telling effect.
The last-wicket stand of 75 with Pragyan Ojha will hurt Sri Lanka A if South too make good use of the early freshness on Day 2.
But there wasn’t much promise in what their bowlers dished out, apart from a brief spell by V Yo Mahesh when he came around the wicket to the left-handers, who occupy the top three slots in the batting order.
South Zone 1st innings: D Karthik b Prasad 5, R Uthappa c Samaraweera b Ganegama 6, VVS Laxman c JK Silva b Ganegama 3, Y Venugopal Rao b Ganegama 0, S Badrinath c Mubarak b Chandana 48, A Rayudu c Samaraweera b Ganegama 0, A Yadav not out 133, S Sreesanth run out 19, Y Mahesh b Chandana 7, K Reddy b Lakshitha 26, P Ojha c JK Silva b Mubarak 12. Extras (b-1, lb-1, pen-5) 7. Total (all out 75.2 overs) 266.
Fall of wkts: 1-9, 2-13, 3-13, 4-14, 5-14, 6-80, 7-119 , 8-134, 9-191.
Bowling: Ganegama 19-1-71-4, Prasad 13-2-50-1, Lakshitha 8-0-43-1, Chandana 25-4-73-2, Warnapura 3-0-7-0, Mubarak 7.2-0-15-1.
Sri Lanka A 1st innings: M Vandort b Mahesh 14, M Udawatte not out 22, B Warnapura not out 0. Total (1 wkt, 12 overs) 36.
Fall of wkts: 1-32.
Bowling: Sreesanth 2-0-8-0, Reddy 4-0-16-0, Mahesh 4-1-7-1, Ojha 2-0-5-0.