Cricket at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium here on Tuesday was engrossing. There was movement for the pacemen and some turn and bounce for the spinners on a first day pitch. Batting demanded application.
Under the circumstances, Sri Lanka progressed to a combative 293 for four on the first day of the third Micromax Test. The home team strung together partnerships at vital stages.
At the right end of a crucial toss again, the host will enter the second day with a definite advantage. Batting last on this surface could be hazardous.
Skipper Kumar Sangakkara made an impressive 75 and a fighting Thilan Samaraweera was batting on 65 at stumps. Samaraweera and all-rounder Angelo Mathews have added an unbeaten 52 runs for the fifth wicket.
This might be a Test where every run could be precious. The Indian bowling was better but could have been a lot more disciplined. There were as many as 11 no-balls sent down by the spinners; unpardonable in any form of the game.
The pitch had a sprinkling of green and dense clouds dominated the skies for most part. With Harbhajan Singh's calf strain not healing in time, India had the option of playing a third paceman in Munaf Patel.
The think-tank included two spinners, though, and there was assistance from the track too for Pragyan Ojha and Amit Mishra. Left-armer Ojha did not begin well. Dhoni had a slip, a silly-point and a short mid-off for him and Ojha bowled on the leg-stump. As the day progressed, he operated with better control, extracting sharp turn on occasions.
Things happened around Ojha for India. Relatively restrained and seeking a sizable score, Tillekaratne Dilshan (41) pushed forward to an Ojha delivery and set out for a single. Murali Vijay made a reflex stop and then released the ball quickly to 'keeper Dhoni. Dilshan, turning back, was caught short. Ironically, it had been a no-ball.
Dhoni should get some credit for Ojha's first wicket. He had a long-on and a long-off rather straighter and shorter for Sangakkara. Later, the Indian captain pushed back his long-on to a more conventional position. Sangakkara, progressing towards yet another hundred, holed to the fielder.
Ojha was fortunate to claim his second wicket. A cautious Mahela Jayawardene (56) stretched his left leg well forward in an attempt to defend and was struck on pad to be adjudged leg-before. Replays showed the ball would have travelled way above the stumps.
Sangakkara was positive on a surface where batting was never easy. He danced down the track to strike Mishra over long-on for the maximum. The left-hander cut Ojha and then off-drove with panache. Sangakkara's precise footwork is the driving force of his batsmanship. However, the Sri Lankan captain was troubled by Abhimanyu Mithun early on; the paceman moved the ball away from the southpaw from round the wicket. Given the natural inward movement of his bowling, this was a telling angle.
Sangakkara, on 23, nicked one but Suresh Raina, at third slip, moved across V.V.S. Laxman at second to spill the offering. This proved a costly lapse.
Sangakkara added 87 for the second wicket with Dilshan and 55 for the third with Mahela (56). And Mahela, whose straight-drive off Ishant Sharma stood out in a rather dour innings, put on 84 valuable runs with Samaraweera.
There is a languid elegance about Samaraweera's batting. He defended the spinners with soft hands, caressed the ball through the off-side field, essayed the late cut and whipped with dexterous wrists. Mathews who pulled Mithun, bowling with the second new ball, offered solid support.
Mishra did flight and spin a few deliveries away from the right-hander but did not quite deliver an effective googly. He appeared to push the ball through quicker in the latter stages of the day. Worse, he received a second warning from umpire Simon Taufel for running on to the pitch. If the leg-spinner trespasses again, he will not be able to bowl further in the match.
Ishant was more vibrant with the new ball this time around. Crucially, the position of his wrist at the point of delivery appeared straighter.
There was some reward for him on a lively surface when the in-form left-handed opener Tharanga Paranavitana perished while attempting to drive him with minimal feet movement.
Apart from sending down his in-dippers, Mithun produced a couple of deliveries that straightened. If he pulls down his non-bowling arm more before release, the young paceman will gain in speed.
Scorecard: Sri Lanka (Ist innings): N. Paranavitana c Dhoni b Ishant 8 (15b, 2x4), T. Dilshan (run out) 41 (70b, 4x4),K. Sangakkara c Sehwag Ojha 75 (114b, 5x4, 2x6), M. Jayawardene lbw b Ojha 56 (154b, 3x4), T. Samaraweera (batting) 65 (143b, 6x4), A. Mathews (batting) 26 (39, 3x4), Extras (b-4, lb-2, w-2, nb-14) 22; Total (for four wkts) 293.
Fall of wickets: 1-15 (Paranavitana), 2-102 (Dilshan), 3-157 (Sangakkara), 4-241 (Mahela).
India bowling: Mithun 17.5-2-57-0, Ishant 15-4-49-1, Mishra 25-1-99-0, Ojha 26-2-78-2, Sehwag 3-0-4-0.
Keywords: India-Sri Lanka Test series