The pitch for the first Test has not really been the ideal advertisement for the longer form of the game. The essence of Test cricket — a fair contest between the bat and the ball — lay buried under a mountain of runs at Motera.
Seven hundreds were made while only 21 wickets fell in the match. Despite a few indications, the surface did not deteriorate even on the fifth day.
The pitch proved a sleeping beauty on day five too as India, behind by 334 after the first innings, finished at a strong 412 for four at conclusion on Friday.
Despite the nature of the surface, credit is due to opener Gautam Gambhir (114, 230b, 13x4), maestro Sachin Tendulkar (100 not out, 211b, 11x4) and V.V.S. Laxman (51 not out, 160b, 5x4), who batted with much composure and heart in a pressure situation.
Although, the wicket held firm, the Indians could have still panicked under stress after conceding a huge lead to the Sri Lankans.
Just five days after his 20-years-for-India celebrations, Tendulkar became the first batsman to reach 30,000 runs in international cricket.
And when he pushed left-arm paceman Chanaka Welegedara to mid-off and scampered for a single, Tendulkar notched up his 43rd Test hundred.
Cricket’s marathon man has still a lot of fight and runs left in him. The crowd swelled as Tendulkar approached his hundred.
An opportunity missed
In the morning, the Sri Lankans missed an opportunity to strike early when Tillakaratne Dilshan put down night-watchman Amit Mishra in the slip cordon off Welegedara.
Mishra, who displayed a reasonable defence, hung around for a handy 24 before a stunning reflex catch by Dilshan at leg-slip ended his tenure. Mishra had essayed a flick off accurate support paceman Angelo Matthews.
The left-handed Gambhir continued to baulk the Sri Lankans. He has evolved as a batsman. In his early days, Gambhir was a flashy southpaw who was rather loose in the corridor. The opener was talented but tended to waste his ability.
The transformation in Gambhir has been as much mental as technical. Greater belief has resulted in the left-hander valuing his wicket more.
A clear role definition and a long run given by the selection panel have also been crucial factors in Gambhir’s development as a reliable opening batsman.
He has tightened his game around the off-stump and is prepared to wait for his scoring opportunities. He is fluent on both sides of the wicket, is light on his feet.
The feature of Gambhir’s seventh Test hundred was the ease with which he played the ball late, using the depth of the crease. A stint under former India batsman Parthasarathy Sharma has enabled him work on this aspect of his game.
Gambhir has also developed this ability to bat for long periods, playing out overs, hours and sessions; his Test-saving effort at Napier is fresh in memory.
Under the circumstances, Gambhir’s dismissal was rather out of character. He jumped down to loft left-arm-spinner Rangana Herath on the off-side but holed out after not quite getting to the pitch of the ball.
India was 275 for four in the 80th over of the innings and the Sri Lankans were still in with a sniff.
The unbeaten 137-run association between Tendulkar and Laxman proved a roadblock for the visitors.
Kumar Sangakkara opted for the second new ball in the 85th over but the two experienced batsmen negotiated the threat capably.
Dammika Prasad, battling a hamstring strain, willed himself to bowl four overs during this phase. There was, however, little in terms of movement for both Prasad and Welegedara.
And even if the ball spun on occasions for Muralitharan and Herath, it did so slowly giving the batsmen time and space to adjust. There was hardly any bounce for the spinners as well.
Tendulkar was watchful in defence but essayed some charming strokes off either foot through covers. His balance and timing continue to astonish. On an occasion, he picked Matthews from outside the off-stump to whip the paceman to the square-leg fence.
Laxman was graceful in defence and offence. He leaned into his off-drives in a manner that was classical. And a couple of typically wristy on-drives hurried to the fence. Indeed, it was a batsman’s Test. Fittingly, Mahela Jayawardene was adjudged Player of the Test.