Sri Lanka establish firm foundation at SSC

Charlie Austin

December 27, 2001

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It started in blistering sunshine and ended prematurely because of a spectacular tropical storm, but otherwise the first day of the Janashakthi National Test series was boringly predictable. Zimbabwe's self-disciplined seamers concentrated on containment and the cricket was attritional, as the patience of Sri Lanka's free scoring batsmen was tested to the full.

But despite the best efforts of Zimbabwe's bowlers, when Sri Lanka re-start their innings tomorrow, probably late because the severity of the thunderstorm, they do so in charge on 211 for three thanks to half centuries from Sanath Jayasuriya (92) and Kumar Sangakkara (62 not out).

Nevertheless, Zimbabwe will not be overly disappointed. The presence of rain only boosts their stated aim of "grabbing a couple of draws" and the day would have ended much worse were it not for a double strike by part-time off-spinner Trevor Gripper in the evening session.

At one stage, Sri Lanka were building the foundations for another huge total at the SSC - to follow the 610-6 against India, 559-5 against Bangladesh and 627-9 against West Indies - apparently cruising on 150 for one. By then the tourist's decision to bowl first on a dry, flat pitch looked stupid in the extreme.

True, they had picked four seamers after the withdrawal of Murphy and this was the same venue at which they had been bundled out for 38 in a one-day match earlier in the tour, but this was plum surface for batting and an ideal opportunity to put pressure on Sri Lanka. Instead, the home side were slowly compiling a sizeable first innings score, content in the knowledge that, with some wear and tear, the wicket would suit Muttiah Muralitharan to a tee.

However, Gripper came to the rescue with his innocuous looking off-breaks. Playing in his tenth Test, he only had one wicket before today, but denied Jayasuriya his ninth Test century, as the left-hander tried to sweep and was caught off his glove by Andy Flower (150 for two).

Then, Mahela Jaywardene (18) started with a bang, clouting fast bowler Travis Friend for 14 in an over and four boundaries in all, before he disdainfully tried to launch Gripper straight down the ground. He mistimed his shot and Carlisle, sprinting 30 metres backwards from mid on, clung onto a brilliant catch (170 for three).

Sangakkara and Russel Arnold hung onto till the close, Sangakkara in some style as he swung Gripper for six to bring up his seventh Test fifty. Arnold 's 51 minute innings was a more dogged affair and he may well have been saved by inconclusive television replays that made it impossible to tell whether a thin edge off medium pacer Gary Brent had carried through to the wicket-keeper.

That was not the only time that Zimbabwe looked unlucky. Earlier in the day, when he had scored just one, Marvan Atapattu looked to have been caught off pad via bat at short leg. Then, shortly afterwards, Jayasuriya survived a vehement appeal for a catch behind of Friend, with umpire Riazruddin apparently adjudging that the ball had either missed completely or had been squeezed onto the ground.

Thereafter, Atapattu and Jayasuriya sedately added 78 for the first wicket, as Zimbabwe bowled outside their off-stump with a fortified ring of fielders and the occasional sweeper on the cover boundary.

The run scoring would have ground to a complete halt if Jayasuriya hadn't zeroed in on every loose delivery proffered. Friend was the most generous, guilty of over pitching, as the left-hander clubbed him for six boundaries. Olonga, too, received some stick, as he strayed on to leg-side and was whipped to the boundary. Streak and Brent were far tighter.

Streak eventually broke through as Atapattu lost his balance and tickled a leg-side catch to Flower.

Earlier in the day, Sri Lanka had plumped for three fast bowlers - Chaminda Vaas, Nuwan Zoysa and Charitha Buddika Fernando - which had caused some surprise on a drier than normal SSC pitch. With the inexperienced Gripper occasionally extracting significant turn already, an extra spinner would have been useful to winkle out the Zimbabwean batsmen.

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Charlie Austin Sri Lanka editor When Charlie Austin left for Sri Lanka after graduating from Sussex University, he was a planning a winter's cricket in the tropics and a six-month stint with an environmental NGO. His mother's worst fears were soon realised when it became clear that he had fallen in love with the island. Six months have now become eight years and Colombo has become his home. He joined Cricinfo in February 2000 and now heads operations in Sri Lanka, responsible for both sales and editorial. He is also the director of a UK-based travel company called Red Dot Tours, and is currently ghosting Muttiah Muralitharan's autobiography.
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