July 29, 2002

Sri Lanka's bowlers grab the initiative with bat and ball

Sri Lanka's bowlers, no doubt wary of another ear bashing from Sanath Jayasuriya, who has become increasingly agitated by their ill-discipline in recent weeks, reasserted the home team's dominance in this ACL Cables Test series on Monday.

The absence of Muttiah Muralitharan proved less of a handicap than had been expected, as the inexperienced attack cut through Bangladesh's equally youthful batting. Bowling out the tourists for 164, Jayasuriya then declined to enforce the follow on, rewarding his bowlers instead with some well-earned rest.

For Sri Lanka, the most encouraging aspect of the bowlers' performance was Chamila Gamage, a 23-year-old pace bowler making his debut. Gamage (also known as Lakshitha), who plays for the Air Force, was the highest domestic wicket-taker last year, claiming 64 victims at 11.64.

And today he was the pick of the seamers, grabbing his chance to impress the national selectors. He announced his presence in emphatic fashion, clipping the top of Mohammad Ashraful's off-stump with his first ball in Test cricket, the 13th player in Test history to achieve such a feat and the first Sri Lankan.

Also the quickest bowler on show, he then trapped Tushar Imran lbw with an inswinger, his stock delivery, finishing the day with two for 33 from 12 vigorous overs.

Coach Dav Whatmore was impressed: "I can see why he has been picking up wickets in domestic cricket: he's got a big heart, natural pace and his effort cannot be questioned. If he keeps directing it in the right areas, he could be a bit of a handful for batsmen in the future."

Speaking afterwards, Gamage was estatic: "I can not express in words how I felt inside me when I got a wicket of the first ball. It's something I will treasure throughout my life time."

Gamage also contributed with the bat. Coming to the crease at the fall of the ninth wicket he contributed 40 runs to a 64 run last wicket partnership with Buddika Fernando (29*). Striking the ball cleanly he capitalised on Bangladesh's strange reluctance to take the second new ball until it was well overdue.

The partnership transformed a moderate total into a good one, frustrating the tourists, who would have been only too mindful of the fact that they had not passed 200 in the last nine innings.

And although Fernando and Sajeewa de Silva started waywardly, Sri Lanka quickly tightened their grip on the game, as they grabbed two wickets during a short 39 minute session before the interval: Fernando trapped Hannan Sarkar (5) with a full-length outswinger and Jayasuriya won a dubious appeal for a catch behind against Al Sahariar (12).

After the break, Bangladesh slipped further into the mire, as Gamage and Fernando reduced them to 51 for five. The situation deteriorated when captain Khaled Mashud (15) edged an off-break from Thilan Samaraweera into the hands of Hashan Tillakaratne at slip. Fahim Muntasir offered up a simple return catch to the same bowler 14 minutes later.

Suddenly, on 86 for seven, a three figure score appeared unlikely, but Bangladesh did manage to fight back. Debutante Kapali scored 39 from 72 balls and Tapash Baisya cobbled together an unbeaten 52 from 103 balls, his first first-class fifty.

Progress was painfully slow, but gradually Bangladesh crawled to within touching distance of the 173 run follow on target. However, they fell just short as Jayasuriya, who picked up three for 17 with his orthodox slow left-arm, finally ended a fine stonewalling effort from Monjural Islam; the left-hander recording a 72-minute duck before being caught behind.

Five minutes later leg-spinner Upul Chandana finished of the innings as last man Talha Jubair slashed to slip, but Bangladesh had at least done enough to persuade Jayasuriya not to enforce the follow on.

Openers Michael Vandort (18*) and Jehan Mubarak (2*) survived till the close, finishing on 25 without loss, which leaves them with a 234 run lead.