Sri Lanka pacers strike at the start on lively pitch, but Kohli, Pujara rebuild before skies open up
It took until the tenth match day of the Test series for the Sri Lankan rain to make its first telling arrival. There is no such thing as a timely interruption, but if there was any break that was most inopportune, then it was on day one of the final Test at the SSC ground.
Friday’s (August 28) opening session was unfolding beautifully. A green pitch full of live grass, heavy overhead conditions that facilitated swing, batsmen unaccustomed to such conditions. It was classic Test match cricket with only the stage subcontinental.
Angelo Mathews did something that few captains in this part of the world dare to do – stick the opposition in on winning the toss. Virat Kohli said he would have done the same, and from ball one, it wasn’t difficult to see why bowling first was the preferred option.
There is something about the first over of the innings that seems to appeal to Dhammika Prasad’s primal instincts. In the last Test at the P Sara Oval, Prasad dismissed M Vijay with the fourth ball of the match and KL Rahul with the fifth ball of the first over of the Indian second innings. This time, he drew first blood with the second delivery of the match, Rahul offering no stroke to a nip-backer that homed in on his off stump.
India scratched and struggled and groped and survived, if only barely. It had somehow managed to reach 50 for 2 – Ajinkya Rahane was the second to fall, lbw to Nuwan Pradeep – when the skies opened up with a ferocity that seemed to indicate that apocalypse was upon us.
Only 75 minutes of play had been possible till then, and no more cricket was played for the rest of the day. The rain didn’t relent for close on three hours – after the initial all-consuming downpour of 20 minutes or so, the intensity dropped off but it kept pitter-pattering for a long time. A scheduled inspection at 3.30pm came with the promise of a restart and at least a few more overs, but the exceptionally tender underfoot conditions at various areas of the outfield left Nigel Llong and Rod Tucker, the on-field umpires, with no option but to abandon the day’s proceedings at 3.50pm. Play is scheduled to begin at 9.45am for the next four days.
Sri Lanka had by far the better of the limited exchanges possible, and would consider itself distinctly unlucky not to have tasted greater success. And when Pradeep finally found reward for a fullish delivery that defeated Kohli’s drive and flew off the inside edge, Kusal Perera behind the stumps put down a sitter, his first significant act in Test cricket.
Perera, the 130th Sri Lankan to play in the format, and Naman Ojha, India cap No. 285, incidentally became the first set of wicketkeepers to make their debut in the same Test since Khaled Mashud and Syed Saba Karim in Dhaka in 2000.
Rahul’s second-ball dismissal must have done the young opener’s cricketing education a world of good, even if the result was extremely discouraging. Throughout the series, Prasad has displayed a propensity to jag the new ball back in. Rahul had driven tentatively at the first ball of the match that skewed off the inside edge past mid-on, so it can be hardly said that he had had a feel of the conditions. To offer no stroke to the next delivery, which pitched outside off and cut back when he had little idea of how much movement or bounce the track would encourage was a poor option.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s return to Test cricket was far less disappointing. In his fifth innings as Test opener, he was understandably a little fidgety at the start but to his credit, he quickly got into his defensive stride. He played close to his body and tried to get on to the front foot as far as possible, even as Rahane batted with the confidence that is his due, playing two exceptional drives off Prasad that sped off the middle of a bat.
Kohli began with a flourish, whipping Pradeep wide of mid-on. In the same over, a big off-drive flew off the inside edge and Perera, who had taken over the wicketkeeping gloves from Dinesh Chandimal, made a hash of a regulation chance. To add to his misery, the ball thudded into the helmet placed behind him as India was gifted five penalty runs. Test cricket can only get better from here on for Perera.
Pujara and Kohli had scrapped their way to an unseparated stand of 36 when the entertainment ended for the day.
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