Murali and Malinga jolt India
Tea India 125 for 5 (Laxman 36*, Dhoni 12*) v Sri
Sri Lanka fought magnificently after a bad start to the day to restrict India to 125 for 5 at tea on the first day of the Ahmedabad Test. First, they were hobbled by illness, as Chaminda Vaas, Dilhara Fernando and Avishka Gunawardene all had to opt out of the game. Then, they lost the toss, and Virender Sehwag chose to bat. India reached 51 for 1 in a one-hour pre-lunch session shortened by overnight dew. But then, led by Lasith Malinga and further spurred by Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka pulled India back.
The first session held little indication of the drama to come. Malinga, his steady run-up a contrast to the slingshotty flamboyance of his action, was wayward, and kept straying down the leg side. Maharoof was steady, moved the ball both ways off the seam, and mixed it up well. But the batsmen - Gautam Gambhir had been preferred to Wasim Jaffer - negotiated him comfortably, the only exception being when Sehwag got a thin inside-edge of an incoming ball, which fell short of the wicketkeeper, Kumar Sangakkara.
It was eventually Malinga who struck. He kept testing the batsmen with short balls, and Gambhir, fiesty and undaunted by the precarious state of his Test-match career, pulled him a couple of times. But valour got him nowhere. Having made 19, he tried to hook a short ball that was well outside the off stump, from outside the line, and the ball ballooned up in the air limply. Upul Tharanga, making his Test debut, took an easy catch at midwicket (31 for 1).
Sehwag and VVS Laxman took India to lunch, after which Sri Lanka lifted their game. Malinga's action makes it just that bit harder to pick up the ball early, and perhaps that caused Sehwag to stay rooted to the crease to a ball he should have gone forward to, and playing down the wrong line. The ball clipped his pads and bowled him for 20 (52 for 2).
Malinga kept running in hard, testing the batsmen with a lot of short deliveries, while Maharoof stuck superbly to a tight line just outside off. There was a little bit of reverse swing in the air, and the runs slowed. Sachin Tendulkar was solid and efficient, batting with masterful restraint, while Laxman was equally watchful. Malinga tested Tendulkar by shifting round the wicket and peppering him with bouncers directed, from wide of the leg stump, at his body. But Tendulkar was unfazed.
Tendulkar greeted Muralitharan's advent into the attack with a lofted four to long-on, but was otherwise a picture of caution. He was on the back foot more often than not, playing as late as he could, generally turning the ball, with the spin, onto the leg side. It wasn't with spin that Murali beat him, though, but with bounce, as Tendulkar was surprised by one that snorted off the pitch and took an edge onto his pads. Jehan Mubarak completed the dismissal, with a well-timed dive at forward short leg (88 for 3).
Yuvraj Singh, who wasn't completely comfortable against Murali in the last Test, didn't last long, stepping forward and edging a good-length ball (88 for 4). Mohammad Kaif went soon after, pulling Malinga Bandara uppishly to midwicket. (97 for 5).
Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni saw out the rest of the session, with stray flashes of characteristic aggression from Dhoni. Sri Lanka, bowling first after losing the toss on a wicket that was supposed to have helped the batsmen, had done marvellously well. They had been accused of not putting up enough of a fight in the one-day series, and in the last Test. But they fired today, and they did so with their regular new-ball bowlers injured. It showed character.
Gautam Gambhir c Tharanga b Malinga 19 (31 for 1)
Mis-hit hook, caught at midwicket
Virender Sehwag b Malinga 20 (52 for 2)
Caught on the crease, playing down the wrong line, bowled off his pads
Sachin Tendulkar c Mubarak b Muralitharan 23 (88 for 3)
Surprised by a snorter, playing across, inside edge to pad, and then to forward short leg
Yuvraj Singh c Samaraweera b Muralitharan 0 (88 for 4)
Playing forward and edging
Mohammad Kaif c Atapattu b Bandara 4 (97 for 5)
Uppish pull to midwicket