A bright but shortlived start

Sri Lanka's inexperienced new-ball attack gave India an early scare but Chanaka Welegedara and Dammika Prasad were unable to finish the job

Cricinfo staff
Chanaka Welegedara was in top form during the first hour, India v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, 1st day, November 16, 2009

Chanaka Welegedara gave Sri Lanka a terrific start but was unable to sustain it  •  AFP

Less than an hour into the opening session, Chanaka Welegedara had grabbed the attention of those trying to discover merely whether his initials - UWMBCA - expanded into the longest name in cricket. He did so with a terrific spell of swing bowling that, with a little help from Dammika Prasad, reduced India to 32 for 4.
The irony was that both Welegedara and Prasad weren't even expected to play until Nuwan Kulasekara was dropped and Thilan Thushara injured his shoulder after crashing into Kaushal Silva during training on Sunday. Welegedara was asked to put on his whites only five minutes before the toss. It was that sort of day for Sri Lanka: frantic and busy, without a moment's respite.
In contrast to the evening, after India's Rahul Dravid-inspired fightback, the morning gave Sri Lanka tremendous hope: Welegedara deceived Gautam Gambhir with a delivery that began to shape away before holding its line to hit off stump. A couple of overs later he silenced the Ahmedabad crowd with two massive blows in four deliveries, getting rid of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. Welegedara later said Tendulkar's was the "best" wicket of his life.
Prasad darted one in soon after to bowl VVS Laxman and Sri Lanka were a couple of strikes away from exposing India's tail in the first session. Their fast bowlers couldn't find a way, though, and India recovered through century stands that Dravid shared with Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni.
It was, however, a learning experience for Sri Lanka's raw pace attack: Prasad had played three Tests while this was Welegedara's first game in two years. Welegedara could have been groomed into a replacement for Chaminda Vaas but injuries, a recurring technical glitch with his action and inconsistent selection sidelined him after a satisfactory debut against England at Galle in 2007, where he equalled Vaas' match tally of four wickets.
The glitch for this tall and broad-shouldered bowler was his habit of running on the pitch, which annoyed selectors and prompted a visit to the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai, where Dennis Lillee and TA Sekar fine-tuned his action. Welegedara hit speeds of 135kmh during his first spell today and bowled a full length around off stump. He made smart use of the crease and was deceptive with his swing, a trait he learned from his mentor and coach Rumesh Ratnayake, the former Sri Lankan fast bowler. But he overdid it against Dravid and kept feeding the batsman's strengths.
While the incoming delivery had succeeded against Sehwag and Tendulkar, Welegedara used it too frequently against Dravid, who clipped the ball effortlessly off his pads. Dravid took 44 runs off 40 deliveries from Welegedara and was beaten only once, when the fast bowler angled one across.
While Welegedara's last-minute selection was unplanned, Prasad was alerted on the eve of the Test that he would take the new ball. He had performed well on debut against India in Colombo last year, rattling the top order with three wickets in the first innings. Prasad is similar to Peter Siddle - a bowler who tirelessly charges in, maintains a brisk pace, and suddenly surprises the batsman with movement.
However Prasad, who was picked ahead of Dilhara Fernando, struggled to find a proper rhythm. Injuries apart his biggest failing is his wavering length, which allows batsmen frequent scoring opportunities. Prasad was up against a master technician today and he bowled a terrific short ball around off stump that Dravid decided to let go. The next ball was fuller and Dravid positioned himself on the middle stump and clipped a fluent boundary on the leg side.
"To be fair to them they bowled really well and a couple of the guys got really good balls," Dravid said after the day's play. It was a commendable performance from Welegedara and Prasad especially considering the world's best bowler - Muttiah Muralitharan - was ineffective on a flat pitch.