Sri Lanka v India, 3rd Test, PSS, Colombo, 1st day August 8, 2008

Prasad's shot of pace

Dammika Prasad justified Sri Lanka's decision to hand him a debut by taking three big wickets - Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar - in the first session

Dammika Prasad, on debut, rattled India's top order before finishing with figures of 3 for 82 © AFP
On the day Dilhara Fernando was named in the squad for the ODI series against India and the Champions Trophy in Pakistan, another raw fast bowler showed how much Sri Lanka have missed someone with his speed and aggression. Dammika Prasad was handed a debut to bolster Sri Lanka's ineffective new-ball attack and, by taking three big wickets in the first session of this Test after India's openers got off to a flier, he proved the decision was a smart one.

To bowl India out for 249 on the first day on a flat track was something, and it was Prasad's introduction to Test cricket that injected life into Sri Lanka. That's something Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Kulasekera, who never went far beyond 125kph, failed to do in the first two Tests. Prasad was picked ahead of left-arm medium-pacer Thilan Thushara because he provided Sri Lanka with a right-left opening combination and for his 4 for 58 in India's practice match before the series, where he got the ball to skid on.

Prasad's first spell in Tests was rather eventful. His first ball, 139kph, was whipped from leg stump for four by Gautam Gambhir. Two balls in that over clocked 140.02 and 143 kph but Virender Sehwag took him for further boundaries. After three overs, Prasad had leaked 25 runs. A fall to the floor, trying to stop a Sehwag straight drive, resulted in medical attention to his left wrist. And then came a moment of jubilation

Prasad landed one on a length inches outside off stump and straightened it, only for Sehwag to feel for it loosely. The regulation nick was held and Prasad growled in satisfaction. "Sehwag was in very good form, and I was nervous just before I got him out," a humble Prasad said. "My team-mates told me not to think of it as my first Test, don't panic, just bowl."

The last five overs of his spell cost just five runs and from there on Prasad bowled intelligently. This was a pitch that demanded he keep it straight and he overcame his early nerves commendably. A bowler capable of bowling above 140kph in the subcontinent is crucial, and today Prasad played an important crucial hand, hitting the crease hard, maintaining decent channels and generating good pace.

Throughout his morning spells, Prasad used the ball to achieve that extra bit of bounce that unsettled a few of the batsmen on this pitch. But he also tried hard to make sure that he didn't get too predictable, varying his pace and length regularly. He was quick in his first three overs, but actually bowled better when he kept his speed in the mid-130s. That's when he achieved a hint of swing to go with appreciable lift.

After a change of ends, Prasad picked up Rahul Dravid with one that swung in late, and Sachin Tendulkar with inward movement. Between the two dismissals Vaas had two brief chats with Prasad, the second with his arm around his shoulder and a large smile on his face. When Tendulkar was adjudged out on a review - replays showed that about 40% of the ball was inside the mat at the point of impact and headed for middle and off - Vaas had his arms around Prasad again. The relief was perhaps palpable for Sri Lanka.

A well-built bowler who relies on his shoulder strength, Prasad clearly thrives on intimidation but is capable of sensible movement as well. Sourav Ganguly was given a work-over with short-pitched stuff and, a couple deliveries later, Gambhir was beaten off the seam by a slow offcutter. He hit the deck hard and moved the ball off the seam. He doesn't have Fernando's height, but there is a similar rawness in the two, as well as a keenness to run in and hustle the batsman. Lasith Malinga remains Sri Lanka's first-choice pacer when fit but Prasad, who has a decently disguised slower ball, can seriously boost his Test career if he learns the art of reverse-swing.

Prasad's success is also special because he is a workmanlike bowler; on the domestic circuit his is not a name spoken of with any great excitement. He doesn't have any outstanding spells domestically, and locals don't rate his 6 for 25 for Southern Province in 2004 very highly. But his success highlights the rewards for hard work and perseverance. Prasad's maiden one-day appearance in early 2006 included two wickets in his first two balls, but a back injury kept him out of the game for six months. He recovered and represented Sri Lanka A in England in 2007, and has worked manfully, if unspectacularly, to force his way back.

This wasn't among the most lethal new-ball bursts by a Sri Lankan fast bowler in modern times, but it was the best they have had all series. Ajantha Mendis's killer efficiency, bowling to the lower order, helped Sri Lanka dig deeper and complemented Prasad's strikes. With Vaas again going wicketless and Muttiah Muralitharan nowhere near his best, Prasad and Mendis, rookies alike, helped give Sri Lanka the advantage on day one, with minimal fuss.

Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo