While it would be unfair to take credit away from century-makers Tharanga Paranavitana and skipper Kumar Sangakkara, the left-handed Sri Lankan duo was helped by some ordinary bowling from a depleted Indian attack on the opening day of the Micromax Test series here on Sunday.
When bad light followed by a sharp spell of rain cut short the day's play in the final session, Sri Lanka was on a strong 256 for two with opener Paranavitana (110 batting, 229b, 12x4) and Sangakkara (103, 145b, 12x4) coming up with major contributions.
Despite fears of moisture on the surface following overnight rain, Sangakkara opted to bat. The golden coin used for the toss had Muttiah Muralitharan's visage on one side and important statistics of his glorious career on the other.
The Sri Lankan captain was spot on with his decision. The pitch, which provided a measure of assistance to both the pacemen and the spinners, and could offer appreciable turn from day three. Already, a few deliveries from the Galle Fort end have kept low.
The Indian bowlers did not hit the right areas. The top-ranked Test side should have ideally possessed greater depth and bench strength vis a vis its bowling resources.
Paranavitana and Sangakkara were not complaining. The pair joined forces at 55 for one in the 11th over and were separated at 236 in the 62nd when the Sri Lankan skipper miscued a long-hop from occasional off-spinner Virender Sehwag.
Sangakkara's 22nd Test hundred was an innings underlined by typical balance. His footwork firm but flexible, Sangakkara picked the length in a jiffy for the cut or the pull and drove with telling precision between point and cover. He is a quick-thinking batsman who dominates the bowlers mentally.
Paranavitana is an organised batsman with sound fundamentals to back his flair. He was assured in defence, leaned into his drives, flicked the ball with poise and opened up the straight field. The left-hander will remember his first Test hundred.
The Indians would want to forget the day in a hurry. If Test match cricket is a lot about creating pressure from both ends, the Indian bowlers came up woefully short.
The Indian fielding and catching were sloppy as well. The outfielding was way below international standards and on one occasion Ishant Sharma actually escorted the ball to the fence instead of stopping it. This was embarrassing.
Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni grassed Sangakkara (on 65) when the Sri Lankan attempted to drive Sehwag without getting to the pitch of the ball. Paranavitana (on 35) was given a reprieve when Gautam Gambhir failed to hold a reflex catch at silly point – Harbhajan was the bowler to suffer. And a leaping V.V.S. Laxman (at gully) failed to get his hands to the ball when Paranavitana (on 87) slashed hard at Ishant Sharma.
Yet, apart from debutant paceman Abhimanyu Mithun - he impressed in patches - the rest of the bowlers hardly made an impact.
Still searching for the wrist position that made him such a threat a couple of seasons ago, Ishant either pitched too short or bowled too full. Too much bowling in the abbreviated forms of the game has affected his natural line - just outside the off-stump. He is no longer hitting the seam in the manner he used too.
Perhaps, spearhead Harbhajan Singh had not recovered completely from a bout of flu. But then, he is so much the better bowler when he gives the ball air; the delivery is enhanced by dip and grips the surface.
Resultantly, the ball fizzes off the pitch. Harbhajan tended to push the ball through on day one. On a few occasions, he tossed the ball up without actually flighting it.
Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha bowled on both sides and tended to pitch short. The fact that he operated to a left-handed combination for most part adversely impacted his bowling. Ojha lacked the arm ball, that would have angled across the left-hander. Or, he could have bowled with greater control from over-the-wicket, straightening his deliveries around the southpaw's off-stump.
Only Mithun bowled with verve in the morning and came desperately close to winning a leg-before decision against Tillekaratne Dilshan with an off-cutter. He is a lively customer with the incoming delivery being his major weapon. It was a moment of triumph for Mithun when he got a threatening Tillekeratne Dilshan to glove a well-directed short-pitched delivery to Dhoni.
For most part though, the Indians got the plot wrong. The side resorted to defensive methods too soon. It was baffling why Harbhajan bowled with a lone slip and nobody close in front of the wicket at Paranavitana and Sangakkara soon after lunch. Dhoni should have attacked more.
Sri Lanka (Ist inngs): T. Paranavitana (batting) 110 (229b, 12x4), T. Dilshan c Dhoni b Mithun 25 (24b, 6x4), K. Sangakkara c Tendulkar b Sehwag 103 (145b, 12x4), M. Jayawardene (not out) 8 (14b, 1x4), Extras (lb-6, nb-4) 10; Total (for two wkts in 68 overs) 256.
Fall of wkts: 1-55 (Dilshan), 2-236 (Sangakkara). India bowling: Ishant 14-3-79-0, Mithun 13-2-41-1, Harbhajan 17-3-41-0, Ojha 17-1-66-0, Sehwag 7-0-23-1