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July 23, 2008
When external factors limit the opening day of a Test series to 22 overs, the time squeezed in assumes greater significance. The passage of play at the SCC was not enough to determine who holds the edge but, after losing the toss in unfriendly conditions, India's new-ball operators reduced Sri Lanka to 85 for 2 at stumps. The visitors were in a satisfactory position considering that Kumar Sangakkara was one of the two wickets.
India had to overcome the setback of losing the toss, but they hit back by taking two important wickets, and if they can remove Mahela Jayawardene, who averages 79.30 at this venue, early on day two they will have made massive strides.
They cannot be criticised for wasting the new ball by bowling cutters because the SSC track is a notorious dodo. Local experts reckon the pitch has something for the fast bowlers for about 90 minutes, and Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma perhaps exceeded expectations.
Zaheer was rhythmic without being especially incisive, and Ishant produced occasional lift from the comatose track. Having bowled full in his opening over while searching for swing, Ishant paid heed to two short deliveries from Zaheer that reared up at Malinda Warnapura. The change in length brought Ishant success - Michael Vandort prematurely came onto the front foot and could not cope with the short ball that rose and deviated.
Zaheer showed how minimal movement can produce success. Sangakkara had struck two on-drives to the boundary when Zaheer had overpitched while trying to trap the batsman lbw. Zaheer bowled a legcutter on a shorter length and had Sangakkara edging a low catch to second slip.
What diminished India's dominance was their inability to dislodge Warnapura, who was playing his fifth Test. Like Vandort, Warnapura's game is limited but on such tracks the deficiencies are difficult to exploit. His 50 was a spark in a glum day but he needs to press on for his team.
The current hot topic is the new review system but it wasn't availed of during the only close call of the day. Sangakkara, on 2 at the time, survived an lbw shout from Zaheer. Replays, courtesy the in-focus Virtual Eye, predicted the ball would have clipped leg stump. It was a marginal decision and Anil Kumble chose not to ask for a review. A team only has three reviews per innings and the projected path of the ball is not available to the third umpire.
Unfortunately, today's play is likely to be the pattern throughout the series. It has been scheduled during the monsoon because there is no other window given the tight international calendar. The Indian board refuses to play overseas during its home season and most of the tours to Sri Lanka have happened at this time of year. South Africa managed to squeeze in two Tests in 2006 during this season. Other contests have emerged relatively unscathed, but there is only so much you can predict about the weather.
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