Muralitharan grabs five as Sri Lanka dominate day one
Four days after their return from England, Sri Lanka's disheartened cricketers were pressed back into action against Test greenhorns Bangladesh. And whilst some might have preferred to laze at home and rest their tired limbs, they at least had the satisfaction of dominating the first day of a two match series they are expected win comfortably.
The return to Sri Lanka brought familiar conditions, although a heavy mid-day downpour will have cast their minds back to an England tour marred by miserable weather. They were also reunited with their cherished off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who was rested during the NatWest triangular series to allow his partially recovered dislocated shoulder time to fully heal.
Here, at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium, his home ground, which was welcoming back Test cricket after eights years, he appeared to have regained full fitness, quickly slipping back into his old routine, claiming five for 39 in 19.4 overs. It was the 35th time in his career that he has taken a five-wicket haul, one less than New Zealand's Sir Richard Hadlee, the present record holder.
Bangladesh, desperately trying to reverse a disappointing string of results that has seen them lose 10 of 11 matches they have played since being awarded full Test status, were bowled out for 161 despite a promising start in the morning.
This was followed by a confident reply by Sri Lanka's openers, Marvan Atapattu (20*) and Russel Arnold (10*), who retained his openers berth after his century against England at Old Trafford last month. When bad light stopped play the hosts were 32 without loss.
But while Sri Lanka had the satisfaction of gaining the upper hand, the disconcerting friction between the team, selectors and administration shows no sign of abating.
Captain Sanath Jayasuriya is upset by the selectors desire to rest senior players and has taken his grievances directly to Sports Minister Johnston Fernando. Muralitharan, too, voiced frustration with the perennially unstable cricket administration during a television interview earlier in the week.
For this game fast bowlers Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa were rested, although Zoysa's immediate future is apparently in some doubt after his inconsistent performances in England. Left-arm swing bowler Sujeewa de Silva, 22, was the beneficiary, winning his first Test cap.
Left-hander Hashan Tillakaratne was also rested, as the selectors gave wicket-keeper Prassana Jayawardene a chance to state his credentials for a permanent place.
Jayasuriya had won the toss in the morning, electing to bowl first in an effort to exploit the traditional pace bowler friendly conditions in the first session at the P. Saravanamuttu Oval. But the expected early inroads failed to materialise, as Sujeewa de Silva took Sri Lanka's solitary wicket in the first hour.
And despite Dilhara Fernando clean bowling number three batsman Ehsanul Haque (2) shortly after the drinks break, Bangladesh continued to prosper in the second hour. Led by 19-year-old debutante Hannan Sarkar (55) they were 107 for two at one stage.
But shortly before lunch Jayasuriya trapped Sarkar lbw with his first delivery of the day, ending a 57 partnership for the third wicket with Habibul Bashar (24), Bangladesh's most consistent top order batsman. Minutes later Basher was also trapped lbw, this time by Muralitharan, and the tourists went into lunch on 111 for four.
A torrential downpour during the break curtailed play for 102 minutes in the afternoon, before Sri Lanka's bowlers started to assert themselves more forcibly on the inexperienced tourists, four of who are playing their first game.
Aminul Islam (0) padded a catch to short leg and Khaled Mushud (23) top edged an attempted sweep to short fine leg. Enamul Haque (1) was smartly stumped and Manjurul Islam (0) was clean bowled during an impressive second spell from Buddika Fernando. Akram Khan (20) tried to resist, but he too fell to Buddika Fernando as he feathered an outswinger to the keeper.
With Muralitharan taking his fifth wicket to finish off the innings, Bangladesh had lost their last five wickets for 13 runs.