On a warm day in Karachi, when Test cricket returned to Pakistan after 16 months, the Sri Lankan top order indulged themselves to reach a strong position by the end of the opening day. Mahela Jayawardene presented a visual treat, Thilan Samaraweera and Kumar Sangakkara accumulated steadily, and Malinda Warnapura thrilled with a breezy knock as the visitors cashed in after winning the toss on a perfect batting pitch.
There is something extremely graceful about Jayawardene's batting. Perhaps, it's the economy of movement, his ease, and the languid flow of his bat's movement that catches the eye. There was a delicious straight drive on the up off Umar Gul today that captured his innings in a nutshell. The ball landed short of a length outside the off stump. Sachin Tendulkar, or even Sangakkara, imparts velocity to such deliveries with a fierce thump at the point of impact, whereas Virender Sehwag would rely on tremendous bat speed. Jayawardene seems to just caress his shots. Today, he waved his bat forward to meet the ball with the middle and it sped away. Just like that. And he did it repeatedly through his innings to compile his first Test hundred against Pakistan, the only country missing from his list of centuries.
Jayawardene was reprieved on 43 and 123 off the debutant Sohail Khan. On both occasions he played away from his body but Misbah-ul-Haq, who held three sharp catches including a diving effort to dismiss Warnapura, spilled the first and Shoaib Malik dropped the second. Those two errors apart, Jayawardene was compact in defence. He might have struggled in recent ODIs but he has revelled in Tests, averaging over 55 in the last 12 months.
Jayawardene's innings built on the platform laid by Sangakkara, who played an assured innings after coming in to face the fifth ball of the day after the debutant Tharanga Paranavitana was out for a first-ball duck. Sangakkara utilised every run-scoring opportunity, playing an upper cut against Sohail Khan, a punchy drive on one knee off Yasir Arafat, and a straight drive against Gul. He even lofted Danish Kaneria over the infield but holed out to midwicket while trying to repeat the shot.
Sangakkara's wicket was a vital moment for Kaneria. He began to test the batsmen - Thilan Samaraweera in particular - with series of legbreaks, occasional googlies, and the odd slider delivered from the front of the hand. Samaraweera, however, was up to the task and grew in confidence, producing a whippy on-drive against Kaneria and another drive through cover off Arafat. As Samaraweera grew in composure, Kaneria started losing his and began to deliver a boundary ball every over.
Kaneria changed tack in the last session, going round the stumps in an effort to frustrate the batsmen. It nearly worked as Samaraweera skied a slog-sweep and then edged between the wicketkeeper and a wide first slip. Samaraweera, nicknamed Mr Glue for a Test strike-rate of 43.96, put those lapses past him and began playing straight again. The pitch and the match situation demanded he raise his game and he did so, allowing Jayawardene to drop anchor. He reached his hundred with a lofted stroke over mid-off against Shoaib Malik.
Among the Pakistan seamers, Arafat stood out for his consistently tight line and length. He repeatedly got the new ball to cut in and also to hold its line and combination almost worked. In the first session, he hit Sangakkara's back leg with a delivery that cut from leg stump towards off but the appeal was turned down by the umpire. Sangakkara, on 43 then, was lucky to get away. Arafat also found reverse-swing with the older ball, though his lack of pace made it hard to breach the batsman's defences.
Gul and Sohail were guilty of erring in length. They overused the tactic of peppering Warnapura with bouncers initially and then tried to compensate by pitching too full. Warnapura took advantage, and kept driving them to set up Sri Lanka's innings.
Despite the run-fest, Younis Khan set attacking fields through the day, conceding plenty of runs in the vacant third-man region. The two slips for Danish Kaneria seemed a luxury at times but you could sense he wanted to be aggressive on the first day of his captaincy. He perhaps took the conventional means of attack to an extreme and the ploy failed to work.