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Pradeep's miserly resurgence amid Sri Lanka's continued misery

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Agarkar: Dhawan flawless against spin (4:35)

Shikhar Dhawan's use of the feet while driving and marked confidence while sweeping stood out (4:35)

Dinesh Chandimal might be missing the Test with pneumonia, Asela Gunaratne may have fractured a thumb, but as far as bad luck goes, no one in this Sri Lanka side has known as long a spell of misfortune as day one's honest toiler: Nuwan Pradeep.

Mishaps, for him, have been both many and memorable. Never far from injury, Pradeep has spent so much time in triage over the last few years, that he could easily have a second family in whichever rehab centre Sri Lanka players use. In the event his behaviour has been more honourable (and let's be honest, with Pradeep, it probably was), he has made enough tough comebacks now to be ordained the patron saint of busted hamstrings.

When he actually plays, let us not forget he does so for Sri Lanka. With non-seaming pitches endlessly served up at home, and team-mates having recently taken to dropping catch after simple catch, even the act of being a Sri Lanka quick seems like something that should be banned by the UN's Convention Against Torture and Cruel Punishment.

Then there are the many specific instances of misfortune. Earlier this year, Pradeep bowled the spell of his life at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, claiming four wickets for one run in a wicked 18-ball burst of seam bowling, but barely received a mention at the end of the day, because Sri Lanka had been resplendently horrendous around that passage of play. It's just Pradeep's luck, really, to produce a career-best performance, miss the chance to claim a maiden career five-wicket haul because his captain didn't give his best bowler a second slip, then have his team crash to an innings-and-infinity defeat.

In fact, virtually all of Pradeep's best performances have come in monumental losses. The four-for at Chester-le-Street last year? Sorry Pradeep, that was in a nine-wicket loss (after Sri Lanka had been asked to follow-on). The four-for in Dunedin in 2015? Nope: 122-run hiding. The four-for against India at the SSC? Try again, 117-run defeat. No one will suggest he has a good average, but while others in this "developing" side seem to be getting worse, his is actually improving slightly. At times, he's like the one student in the art class who is painting his best work, while everyone else stabs themselves in the eye with the paintbrush.

So perhaps the one consolation for Pradeep is that he is more than familiar with the treatment he has received on day one. Having missed the most-recent match with injury, he was immediately effective with the new ball, angling short-of-a-length balls across the left-handed openers; making them play, without letting them open their shoulders. The delivery to dismiss Abhinav Mukund was a Pradeep classic - the kind of ball that first got coaches excited at Sri Lanka's pace academy. Angled in from around the wicket, it left the batsman slightly, and claimed the edge. The dismissal of Kohli, however, was evidence of the distance he has come as a bowler. The quick, well-directed bouncer has in the past year, been deployed clinically and sparingly, so the remaining arrows in his quiver are sharpened by its menace.

Where back in 2015, Pradeep was Sri Lanka's third-choice seamer at best, he has now worked so diligently at his craft, he is for the first time in his career, gaining a little public admiration. Once, he was the most wayward of Sri Lanka's quicks, forever leaking four runs an over, even if he did occasionally cause trouble with his seam. On the first day, going at 3.55, he was cheaper even than Rangana Herath, and bowled only six overs fewer. His discipline has improved to such an extent, that he has recently outperformed Lasith Malinga in ODIs.

"Even in the Champions Trophy and the Zimbabwe ODIs, Pradeep was bowling very well," Sri Lanka's cricket manager Asanka Gurusinha said. "We all realised that at this stage, he is our No. 1 seam bowler. He was the most outstanding bowler out there today."

Save for during Pradeep's seven-over opening burst, in which he claimed the wicket of Abhinav and conceded 24, he was poorly supported in his remaining spells. The spinners continued to send balls down the legside to feed a multi-fanged, salivating monster that was Shikhar Dhawan's sweep. Lahiru Kumara's pitch map looked like debris in the wake of a hurricane. Even Herath let Dhawan get in his head, bowled flat and spread the field.

With all three wickets to his name, Pradeep might even claim career-best figures here. Such is his life, Sri Lanka are pelting towards a comprehensive spanking.