Harbhajan Singh scalps four on a Brabourne wicket that eased out a touch after lunch
Mumbai: The ball bounced, seamed and spun and the close-in catchers were in with a sniff in the first session. The surface eased out a touch after lunch yet the odd ball posed searching questions to the batsmen. Batting called for application and enterprise in equal measure.
On an engrossing day of Test cricket at the Brabourne Stadium on Wednesday, opener Tillakaratne Dilshan’s 160-ball 109 underlined his resolve and inventiveness.
Kumar Sangakkara won what could prove a crucial toss and Sri Lanka progressed to a competitive 366 for eight at stumps. This surface could increasingly assist the spinners.
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh scalped four but the hectic pace of the Sri Lankan run-getting indicated that the Indian attack could not quite zero in on the right areas when the conditions were helpful.
The Sri Lankans raced to 117 for one at lunch when the ball seamed around or spun alarmingly. The bowling lacked the precision required to exploit the conditions.
Wicket eases out
Once the moisture dried out, it became an easier track to bat on. During this phase, the Indian bowling could not quite create the pressure to prevent partnerships from developing after the relatively early dismissals of heavyweights Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
While Angelo Mathews — he walked in at a critical 188 for four — rode his luck with edges and slashes off the pacemen that eluded the cordon, he was also offered the width and the length for the cut and the pull. With a free-spirited approach underlined by power, the all-rounder was unbeaten on a valuable 119-ball 86 at stumps.
Mathews gradually grew in confidence and, in the latter stages of his innings, unleashed front-footed cover-drives after getting to the pitch of the ball. He also cut with panache and employed the sweep to counter the spinners.
While all-rounder Mathews pulled his weight, the day belonged to the fleet-footed Dilshan. And it was a pity that an umpiring error terminated the Sri Lankan’s innings. The bat was nowhere close to an off-spinner from Harbhajan that struck Dilshan’s front pad and then his chest before being held at short-leg.
Dilshan had batted with an uncluttered mind. When Sreesanth banged it in short, he was hooked and pulled. When Harbhajan Singh was introduced, Dilshan took the off-spinner on, using his feet to loft over the infield. These were calculated risks.
The right-hander also played some pleasing drives in the ‘V’ after dancing down or created room for the shot through covers by playing beside the line. He worked the ball around for singles and twos as well.
A fleet-footed six over long-on off left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha was an audacious strike against the spin by Dilshan. And a back-foot cover-drive off Harbhajan showcased another aspect of his batsmanship. He swept both Harbhajan and Ojha for boundaries to disrupt their length. The 33-year-old Sri Lankan would cherish his 11th Test hundred.
His was a crucial innings since Sangakkara and Mahela departed after promising much. Sangakkara nicked one down the leg-side from Ojha and Mahela fell into the hook trap laid by Sreesanth.
Sreesanth largely disappointed with the new ball but bowled a compelling spell in the afternoon when he got a few deliveries to reverse. Late in the day, Zaheer Khan sent down a zestful spell with the second new ball.
Harbhajan bowled an outside-the-off-stump line with flight, spin and bounce in the first session but there was less bite in his bowling subsequently. His line suffered too and he was swept repeatedly.
Ojha bowled well in the early stages, spinning the ball alarmingly past the right-hander’s bat but wavered in his length as the day wore on. He tended to pitch short and also provided the batsman width.
The left-armer eventually removed a free-stroking Prasanna Jayawardene (43, 47b) when the right-hander holed out after dancing down and attempting to strike against the spin but then Ojha could surely have operated with better control.
In the morning, opener Tharanga Paranavitana (53, 81b) impressed. The left-hander batted with flair and composure when the conditions were hard for the batsmen.
He cover-drove Zaheer Khan with poise, and forced Sreesanth through mid-wicket when the paceman attempted the bouncer-yorker routine.
Paranavitana was eventually prised out by Harbhajan, who got a delivery to spin away from the left-hander for Rahul Dravid to hold a smart catch at slip.
The opening pair of Paranavitana and Dilshan had put on 93 runs in just under 20 overs.
Later in the day, Thilan Samaraweera ‘walked’ after being pouched bat-pad at short-leg off Harbhajan; he had received a thin edge onto his pad.
Sri Lanka — 1st innings: T. Paranavitana c Dravid b Harbhajan 53 (81b, 7x4), T. Dilshan c Vijay b Harbhajan 109 (160b, 10x4, 2x6), K. Sangakkara c Dhoni b Ojha 18 (35b, 2x4), M. Jayawardene c Sehwag b Sreesanth 29 (63b, 4x4), T. Samaraweera c Vijay b Harbhajan 1 (2b), A. Matthews (batting) 86 (119b, 13x4), P. Jayawardene c Harbhajan b Ojha 43 (47b, 6x4, 1x6), N. Kulasekara c Dhoni b Zaheer 12 (15b, 3x4), R. Herath c Dravid b Harbhajan 1 (12b), M. Muralitharan (batting) 0 (4b); Extras (b-4, lb-4, w-2, nb-4): 14. Total (for eight wkts. in 89 overs): 366.
Fall of wickets: 1-93 (Paranavitana), 2-128 (Sangakkara), 3-187 (M. Jayawardene), 4-188 (Samaraweera), 5-262 (Dilshan), 6-329 (P. Jayawardene), 7-359 (Kulasekara), 8-362 (Herath).
India bowling: Zaheer 19-2-70-1, Sreesanth 14-1-66-1, Harbhajan 29-2-107-4, Ojha 23-1-97-2, Yuvraj 4-0-18-0.