Chanderpaul leads from the front
West Indies went into the Test at the SSC in Colombo fearing the worst - their batting line-up was, apart from Chanderpaul, severely lacking in ability and experience, the bowling line-up had no world-class spinner, and they were playing an opposition known for their prowess on home territory. By the end of the first day, though, they had done to ensure that the match wouldn't quite be a three-day, one-sided romp for the Sri Lankans.
The West Indian side had three debutants in their line-up, and two of them rose to the occasion. Xavier Marshall was the only one who failed to make an impact - he was trapped in front by Chaminda Vaas early in the piece - but Runako Morton and Ramdin showed enough stomach for a fight as experience and youth battled hard to counter the Sri Lankans.
Marvan Atapattu wasn't too displeased at losing the toss, hoping that the cloud cover would give his seamers enough to smile about. The last time the two sides played here, Chaminda Vaas took 14 wickets to destroy West Indies, but, after taking an early wicket, there was little joy for him as Morton and Sylvester Joseph steadied the innings with a 58-run stand. Both were troubled early on, especially by Lasith Malinga's unorthodox bowling style and the disconcerting lift he generated, but the rest of the bowlers were rather easier to handle -Vaas and debutant Gayan Wijekoon, a left-arm seamer, were steady but didn't always threaten, Muttiah Muralitharan was feeling his way back after 11 months away from Test cricket, while Rangana Herath got little assistance from the first-day track.
The partnership held sway for much of the morning session before Sri Lanka fought back - Wijekoon got his maiden Test wicket, pinning Joseph on the back foot and winning an lbw appeal from Simon Taufel, while Morton was bowled attempting an ambitious drive.
Things got even better for Sri Lanka immediately after lunch, as Malinga struck twice in his first three balls. Before lunch, he had been guilty of pitching it far too often in his own half of the wicket; when he altered his length, the rewards came swiftly: Narsingh Deonarine wafted at one outside off and was snaffled by the wicketkeeper, while Dwayne Smith, after smashing a four first ball, played all around his front pad and was palpably in front.
At 113 for 5, the West Indian innings was in serious danger of coming unstuck in a hurry. Ramdin, however, scotched all such fears with a breezy and fluent effort. The start was slightly iffy, but he soon gained in confidence, and the strokes began to flow - the full-length balls were driven through cover or flicked to midwicket quite fluently, while the spinners were tackled with excellent footwork. He brought up his half-century with a glorious cover-drive off Wijekoon, but then fell soon after, dragging one back onto his stumps. In the 79-run stand for the sixth wicket, Chanderpaul's contribution was only 23.
There, again, was another opportunity for Sri Lanka to wrap up the innings, but Chanderpaul found an able ally in Omari Banks. The two frustrated the bowlers for 30 overs after tea, and when play was called off early due to bad light, were still together, having added an invaluable 79 more for the seventh wicket.
Chanderpaul was typically circumspect early on, but gradually opened up to play some belligerent strokes, including a six over long-on off Herath. His technique wouldn't please the purists, but neither pace nor spin could breach his defences. Banks displayed excellent temperament as well, playing 96 deliveries for his 30.
As usual, Sri Lanka relied heavily on Muralitharan - he bowled 29 overs, 15 more than the next in the list, Herath - but had only one wicket to show for his effort, thanks to a first-day pitch and some dogged defence. West Indies would be reasonably pleased with their effort on the first day, but on an excellent batting pitch, Sri Lanka would be fancying their chances of running up a really huge total. Chanderpaul's job isn't quite done yet.
How they were out
Xavier Marshall lbw b Vaas 10 (14 for 1)
Trapped in front by one which pitched on middle and straightened
Sylvester Joseph lbw b Wijekoon 28 (72 for 2)
Pinned on the back foot by a ball which was fractionally short and struck him in front of off
Runako Morton b Muralitharan 43 (95 for 3)
Went for an almighty drive, and the ball turned and sneaked through between bat and pad
Narsingh Deonarine c Sangakkara b Malinga 12 (109 for 4)
Attempted to drive a full, wide delivery and got a thin edge
Dwayne Smith lbw b Malinga 4 (113 for 5)
Caught on the crease by a full-length ball which shaped in
Denesh Ramdin b Wijekoon 56 (192 for 6)
Dragged a drive back onto his stumps
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo