Indian spinners targeted and dominated
Indian batsmen have acquired a bit of a habit of going after visiting spinners in the side games. The Australians go after visiting captains, but the Indians - and often it's the unheralded batsmen - unsettle the spinners. In 1997-98 Amit Pagnis welcomed Shane Warne with a 60-ball 50, in 2008-09 Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli hit Jason Krejza out of the starting XI for three Tests, in 2009-10 Manish Pandey and Abhishek Nayar dismantled Paul Harris. Some of their own medicine was administered to them on the first day of this tour of Sri Lanka.
Upul Tharanga nearly scored a century in the first session, three of the top four batsmen went past 100, and 432 runs came in the day, only 11 fewer than what India managed at the Brabourne Stadium when Virender Sehwag played the innings of the last year. At least two members of this attack, possibly three, and if Harbhajan Singh doesn't recover from his fever, maybe even all four, will be playing in the first Test. The No. 1 Test side in the world needs better. There is serious cause for concern, and India know it.
It was just a tour game, but also a proper first-class game, not the kind where 11 field and everyone bats, which has become more of the norm nowadays. That there would be no favours was clear when Thilan Samaraweera chose to bat. This was not going to be some gentle batting practice.
Soon Tharanga was driving the first ball of the day for four, soon the spinners were being hit around in their first overs, the no-balls came in abundance, maiden overs were almost non-existent, boundaries were hit almost at will, and wickets were more thrown away than they were earned. Only four maidens (two of them when batsmen slowed down approaching stumps), 22 no-balls (11 from Amit Mishra), and 264 runs in boundaries.
The pitch was slow, but it offered turn. Mishra started with a long hop and kept giving at least one short delivery in almost every over. This was in addition to his no-ball habit. There was no control whatsoever, and had Mishra not bowled towards the end of the day, when the lower-middle order had slowed down, he would have come back with an economy-rate of more than six. Ojha was a bit better, a bit more accurate, a bit more testing, but nowhere near threatening. Of course there was a definite plan to unsettle India's spinners, of course their stock ball was always turning in towards their left-hand tormentors, but neither of them was convincing in his response.
The match is not being televised, but Harbhajan will know how desperately he is needed when the team reaches the hotel and he is told of the happenings of the day.
Ishant Sharma, who has the responsibility of leading the pace department, was the only one who could walk away with some credit. He did bowl seven no-balls, but he also beat the batsmen, both for pace and for movement. He had Tharanga missed in his third over -that wasn't the only edge he induced - and his pace didn't fall much in later spells either. He got a deserved pat on the back from bowling coach, Eric Simmons.
Abhimanyu Mithun, who, after one superb domestic season, faces the prospect of taking the new ball in the first Test, was steady rather than threatening. There was an odd edge created too, but there never was a concentrated spell during which Mithun made it seem like a wicket might be around the corner.
As far as poor first days of tours go, this one was as bad for India as their one-day defeat to Rest of South Africa and the 213 for 8 in Chittagong. When they walked off the field, the Indians didn't carry faces of grim, desperate concern, but ones indicating that knew they were in for a tough one here in Sri Lanka. What they won't give for an inspired spell of bowling, the kind Sreesanth produced in Kanpur.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo