Warnapura takes the honours on rain-hit day
Malinda Warnapura's brisk unbeaten 50 off 74 balls proved to be the difference between an emphatic session and a merely satisfactory one for India on a rain-hit opening day of the Test series. India's new-ball bowlers had Warnapura sorted out initially: seeing his penchant for front-foot play, they peppered him with bouncers, fooled him with slower ones, and got him to play ungainly shots, but by the end of the 22 overs possible in the day he managed to stay undefeated after watching Michael Vandort and Kumar Sangakkara depart early.
Heavy overnight rain, sporadic drizzles during the day and the resultant wet outfield had ruled out any play in the first two sessions. After Mahela Jayawardene won the toss, both teams came out suggesting they could hardly wait inside their dressing rooms. Vandort flicked the first ball off his legs before Gautam Gambhir's interception at short leg averted a certain boundary. In Zaheer Khan's next over, Warnapura planted his front foot down the wicket and drove him straight down the ground for the first boundary of the series.
That was cue enough for Zaheer, who made the bouncer into his stock ball, hitting Warnapura three times on his shoulder in the third over of the innings. At the other end, Ishant Sharma took advantage of the shackles imposed by Zaheer. He got one to kick off a short length and move away from the off-stump line, and Vandort followed it, only managing an edge to Dinesh Karthik.
Though Warnapura still looked ungainly, what stung India was the pace at which he scored his runs. The misses, the body blows and the edges didn't seem to have any effect on his mindset; the pitch didn't have much pace in it and he was happy driving off the front foot. Then, just when the two left-handed batsmen were settling into a partnership, Sangakkara got a vicious legcutter from Zaheer, just after the drinks break. It angled in towards the stumps, forcing Sangakkara to play at it, but straightened after pitching, and the edge went low to Rahul Dravid at first slip.
In the following nine overs, Jayawardene and Warnapura batted in contrasting styles. Warnapura, although more assured than before, still looked to press forward, but whenever forced into an uncomfortable territory, he got the bottom hand off the bat so that nothing flew off it. Jayawardene, unperturbed by the fading light, was more fluent, playing majestic cover-drives off a tired Zaheer and an innocuous Sourav Ganguly.
The players walked off at the first offer of light, 20 overs short of the scheduled 42. India missed a third specialist seamer in overcast conditions, but the true test for the bowlers will come later in the game, when the sun is out and also when they are bowling in the second innings.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo