A probing spell of left-arm seam from Chaminda Vaas engineered an Indian collapse
On a day whose events were purely of academic interest, thanks to cyclone-induced rain washing out the first three-and-a-half days of play, Sri Lanka dominated, grabbing a bit of the psychological advantage for the rest of the series. A probing spell of left-arm seam from Chaminda Vaas engineered an Indian collapse, for their lowest-ever total against Sri Lanka, before the batsmen, led by the classy Mahela Jayawardene, managed some useful practice ahead of the second Test at Delhi in four days' time.
The ease and flourish shown by the Sri Lankan batsmen was in stark contrast to the pottering nature of India's display. The difference in run-rates today - India crawled along at a little over 1.5 runs an over while Sri Lanka motored at close to 4 - may lead one to believe that the pitch was changed midway through the day, but the Indian batsmen did themselves no favours by retreating further into their shells when the choke was applied. The pitch wasn't keeping as low as last evening and it was left to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, on Test debut, to breathe some life into the innings and save them from ignominy.
For most of last week, there was no respite from the rain. On the final morning, it was more like a drought, not water but runs, with the batsmen managing just 19 runs in the first 20 overs of the day, including a period when they endured 38 consecutive dot balls. Staggeringly, Vaas's first 11 overs of the day were maidens - the greybeards in the crowd probably harked back to nearly 42 years back when Bapu Nadkarni sent down 23 consecutive maidens in this city - and both Muttiah Muralitharan, who equalled Anil Kumble's record for 24 caught-and-bowled dismissals, and Malinga Bandara, the legspinner, posed plenty of problems.
There was no record 35th hundred for Sachin Tendulkar, undone by a fastish offbreak from Murali after a painstaking 126-ball knock, and he was lucky not to fall much earlier, when Sangakkara failed to latch on to a nick in the second over of the day. Neither Sourav Ganguly nor VVS Laxman succeeded in breaking the shackles - a mix-up when Laxman took off for a non-existent single and Ganguly hesitated ended their partnership - and didn't endeavour to use their feet against the spinners. Ganguly, who was given a warm reception when he walked out to bat, managed one well-timed cover-drive but soon chipped low to point where Tillakaratne Dilshan plucked an excellent catch.
Countering Murali on a sluggish surface on one's Test debut can be a nervy prospect, but Dhoni backed himself and wasn't afraid to loft the ball over the fielders. In 54 deliveries, he scored more fours than what both Dravid and Tendulkar had managed in 231, and made sure he wasn't bogged down by rotating the strike.
Dhoni showed that one could score runs on the track and the point was reinforced, with finesse, by Jayawardene and Sangakkara. Neither Ajit Agarkar nor Irfan Pathan managed to exert any sort of control and Sourav Ganguly, coming on in the 10th over, was singled out for punishment with 16 runs in his two overs. Jayawardene's velvet-smooth drives came as a whiff of fresh air, after most batsmen struggled to get the ball off the square, and he showed his full repertoire in his breezy 71. He shifted to one-day mode after tea, finding the boundary with ridiculous ease and often managing to adjust in the last minute. Just when he appeared all set for a hundred, in his first match in India, he was given out when the ball appeared to have only brushed the pad.
Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera joined the fun and it was only Anil Kumble, who was unlucky not to have more than three wickets, who asked some searching questions. He foxed Marvan Atapattu with a short one that hurried on and deceived Sangakkara with a legbreak that stayed a bit low. The rains ensured that there was no chance of a result in this game, but based purely on today's events Dravid's boys will know that, despite the 6-1 hammering in the one-dayers, beating Sri Lanka in Tests, especially in subcontinental conditions, is a different kettle of fish.
Rahul Dravid c Sangakkara b Vaas 32 (97 for 3)
Lunged to drive a slightly wide one and feathered an edge
Sachin Tendulkar lbw b Muralitharan 22 (108 for 4)
Played back and missed a ripping offbreak
VVS Laxman run out (Tharanga/Sangakkara) 5 (109 for 5)
Pushed straight to square leg and took off; couldn't make it back after mix-up
Sourav Ganguly c Dilshan b Fernando 5 (117 for 6)
Chipped a low catch to point
Irfan Pathan c and b Muralitharan 0 (118 for 7)
Patted a straighter one back to the bowler
Ajit Agarkar run out (Gunawardene/Sangakkara) 4 (128 for 8)
Drove to the covers and took off; failed to make it back after Dhoni hesitated
Anil Kumble c and b Vaas 9 (159 for 9)
Drove uppishly; good low catch by the bowler
Mahendra Singh Dhoni c Gunawardene b Bandara 30 (167)
Holed out to long-off
Avishka Gunawardene c Dhoni b Pathan 4 (5 for 1)
Drove at a well-pitched up delivery that moved away
Kumar Sangakkara lbw b Kumble 30 (62 for 2)
Deceived by a legspinner that kept a shade low
Mahela Jayawardene c Gambhir b Kumble 71 (124 for 3)
Given out after trying to flick to the on side
Marvan Atapattu b Kumble 7 (158 for 4)
Tried to pull a short one but beaten by the lack of bounce
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo