Warnapura ton gives Sri Lanka the edge
Having notched up a hundred and a fifty in a warm-up match at the Providence Stadium, Malinda Warnapura returned to the venue, which became the 97th to host Test cricket, and celebrated with a maiden century. The lack of bounce on a typical Guyanese featherbed allowed Warnapura to hit through the line without any inhibitions and he helped himself to 120 to lay a solid platform for Sri Lanka.
At 269 for 4 Sri Lanka were firmly in the driver's seat but it appeared to be stronger until some subtle change of pace late in the day hauled West Indies back slightly. The decision not to take the second new ball proved crucial as Jerome Taylor snuffed out a couple wickets with some excellent swing before stumps. Other than that there was little to cheer as the visitors' left-handed top order batted fluently on a bald, bare surface only certain to get slower.
Warnapura, in his third match, was the aggressor in a century opening stand with Michael Vandort. With no swing, seam movement or bounce Warnapura could quite easily come onto the front foot and drive. He didn't refrain from going for aerial drives in the arc between cover and point, and his first four was a slash off Taylor as early as the second over. Daren Powell generated some good pace but his short-pitched stuff was comfortably negated and there were a few too many wide deliveries; one scorching drive through extra cover was especially pleasing.
The square boundaries at the venue were long - certain full-blooded shots would have been four at the old Bourda - and so Warnapura and Vandort relied on their running between the wickets to keep the runs coming. Warnapura was particularly strong on the off side - he scored 92 runs with bottom-hand punches into the covers and past point compared to 27 nudged the other side of the square - and despite driving uppishly he continued to prosper.
West Indies should have had an early wicket but debutant Suleiman Benn, their 268th Test player, missed the stumps from the slips, allowing Vandort a life. Apart from consecutive steers for four through gully Vandort drove tall and upright, bat close to body. The odd ball from Benn turned - one inside-edge snuck between Vandort's legs - but there was little for the bowlers to shout about. Only 32 were scored from 17 overs going into lunch but importantly the openers remained together for two hours.
Having just seen Vandort let off at point Taylor held his nerve to snap a 131-run stand when he beat him with appreciable pace and swing in the 42nd over. West Indies should have had Warnapura on 95 in the 54th but Dwayne Bravo, at slip, dropped a mistimed cut. Warnapura collected himself for a moment and raised his maiden ton from 182 deliveries with another cut to point, who fumbled and allowed the single.
The arrival of Kumar Sangakkara added pressure to West Indies in the field. Pushing singles, constantly shuffling in his crease, confidently playing with the spin, Sangakkara furthered his team's position. He was very eager to keep runs ticking and added 75 with Warnapura, who walked after nibbling one from Bravo down the leg side to the 'keeper.
Joined by best mate Mahela Jayawardene, determined to play out the rest of the day, Sangakarra continued pushing singles. It was tough to keep him inactive for long the way he continually walked across his stumps to tuck the spinners towards midwicket. His 24th half-century came up in 113 deliveries.
Sri Lanka were looking comfortable 30 minutes before close, with only two men back inside, but Sangakkara departed shortly before close as he chased a wide one from Taylor to the slips. Taylor induced a half-push from Thilan Samaraweera two balls later, which the substitute fielder Travis Dowlin snapped up at short midwicket.
Taylor's double-whammy was the best West Indies procured all day, unlike the rest of his toothless bowling team-mates, and the hosts need some further chutzpah. Bar Taylor's subtle changes of pace, the only trick which worked on this comatose track, it was rather disappointing. The part-timers were pedestrian, Benn toiled efficiently but without success, Powell finished the most expensive bowler, and Bravo, mixing cutters and slower deliveries, was decent. The catching too left much to desire. To make matters worse West Indies lost the services of vice-captain Ramnaresh Sarwan, playing his first Test in ten months, due to an injured left hand.
The team that won the toss was always going to have the advantage on a run-filled pitch and the start of the day was only bad news for the hosts, whose pre-match confidence fell flat until Taylor lifted spirits.
Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo