A pitch with something for everyone

Finally, at the third time of asking in this series, the conditions provided the perfect backdrop for an engrossing contest

Cricinfo staff
Harbhajan Singh ended the first day with 4 for 107  •  AFP

Harbhajan Singh ended the first day with 4 for 107  •  AFP

Finally, at the third time of asking in this series, the conditions provided the perfect backdrop for an engrossing contest. The pitch in Ahmedabad was a sleeping beauty that even Don Juan couldn't have roused, while the one at Green Park in Kanpur was slow and low. On the opening day at this famous old venue, there was something for everyone. Zaheer Khan got the odd delivery to leap at the batsmen, Sreesanth troubled them with conventional and reverse swing, while Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha found both turn and spitting-cobra bounce.
But by the day's end, Sri Lanka still had 366 on the board, with Tillakaratne Dilshan's rapid century curtailed by a poor decision and Angelo Mathews holding the Indians at bay with an unbeaten 86. There was a fluent half-century for Tharanga Paranavitana, and a stroke-filled 43 from Prasanna Jayawardene. Had the disgruntled Dilshan - "I would still be batting out there," he said pointedly when asked if he would have preferred the referral system to be in place - not been sent packing with 24 overs still to be bowled in the day, Sri Lanka could conceivably have reached 400.
With the slower bowlers likely to grow ever more influential as the match progresses, the fate of the Test probably hinges on India's first innings. Harbhajan, who finished the day with 4 for 107, was quietly confident that India had the batsmen to handle whatever Muttiah Muralitharan and Rangana Herath conjure up on this surface. "I have got tremendous faith in our batsmen that they will come out and take this challenge and score a lot of runs because the wicket is still very good," Harbhajan said. "Very true bounce, and you can score a lot of runs because the surface is so hard on the sides that once the ball gets out of the square, it is very difficult to stop.
"It's a high-scoring ground, so I won't be surprised when Viru [Sehwag] gets going. When Dilshan or Viru plays till tea, then the scoreboard will keep rattling along. It's very important to get this kind of people early. They [Sri Lanka] deserve the credit, they batted really well today."
Both Harbhajan and Ojha bowled beautifully at times, looping the ball and inducing plenty of false or uncertain strokes. In Harbhajan's eyes though, the perception that he bowled better was a false one. "I was just bowling the way I have been bowling," he said. "There was a bit of moisture in the morning session, the ball was gripping a bit and taking spin. There was enough to beat the bat. I knew that red soil also helps bounce and spin if you put enough effort.
"The kind of wickets we've played on, it gets really difficult to even beat the bat. The Kanpur wicket was a tough one to bowl on. Lots of edges weren't carrying to slips, lots of edges were going towards third man. It's difficult to set fields for that. Ahmedabad, you all know what the story was. But I'm very happy the way I bowled today. It would have been a little better if I had conceded 15-20 runs less.
Having leaked runs in the first hour, India were much better in the next three before a 33-over final session, in which Sri Lanka piled on 153. "We could have bowled a little better," Harbhajan said. "I felt we gave away a lot of runs in the third session; the energy levels were a little low. Also, we could have fielded a little better. We have to be up for these kinds of challenges. We know that when there are partnerships, if we get one or two wickets and create pressure by bowling and fielding well, we could save 35 to 40 runs."
India's problems were in part due to having just four specialist bowlers, on a day when the afternoon sun shone bright. Harbhajan and Ojha bowled 52 overs between them, and the only respite came in the shape of four overs from Yuvraj Singh. "You have to have an allrounder who can bowl 15 overs in a day and get you 50-odd runs with the bat," said Harbhajan. "But unfortunately, we don't have that someone in the team at the moment. But it would have been nice to have a fifth bowler who can give you another 15 overs. That will put less pressure on your main bowlers."
Murali has been a non-factor in the series so far, but Harbhajan was clearly wary of the impact that he might have as the match goes forward. "Obviously, Murali is the biggest match-winner ever in world cricket," he said. "Playing him will be challenging, it has always been a challenge. I am sure he will be looking forward to bowling on this wicket but we have the batsmen who can handle him. Even in Galle, when it was spinning big, Viru got 200. It's very important to get a good start, and I am sure [Murali] Vijay and Viru will give us a good start."