Today was one of Chennai's less cruel summer days. Although the humidity levels remained high enough to drain the moisture out of you, the sun played hide and seek behind cloudy skies. That said, playing cricket in such weather is tough. Fast bowling in such conditions is tougher and if you're a big and burly quick with a long run-up and heavy landing, you're really in for a tough time. But Dilhara Fernando shrugged it all off saying: "It was really hot and was sweaty but we are used to such conditions back home in Sri Lanka."
Fernando hadn't played the first game at Bangalore because Mashrafe Mortaza was preferred as the third seamer. Brought in for that role today, his responsibility was magnified when Zaheer Khan picked up a niggle after bowling just 2.4 overs. At the 2007 World Cup, Fernando wasn't picked for Sri Lanka's first two games against Bermuda and Bangladesh but when he got his chance against India, he delivered a knock-out punch by bowling Sachin Tendulkar for a duck. Today, he used the bouncer, the slower ball that he disguises so cleverly, and the yorker to lethal effect while bagging 4 for 36.
Fernando has had trouble controlling the white new ball and perhaps that was why Mahela Jayawardene bowled a couple of overs when Zaheer went off the field, bringing Fernando on only as second change. Fernando kept the ball full in his first over, and tested Vusi Sibanda with a yorker. He produced another boot-crusher to Boeta Dippenaar early in the 13th over, which was dug out for a single. When Sibanda took strike for the next ball, he probably expected another one aimed at the toe, only to be caught unawares by a deadly bouncer.
Pitched short on leg stump, it wasn't short enough to allow the batsman to evade it calmly. Sibanda had backed away towards leg stump but saw the ball rise sharply towards his helmet. With a sharp jolt, he arched out of the way and as he did so, lost balance and fell to the ground. Visibly shaken, he prepared to face Fernando again.
Instead of being predictable and following up with a yorker, Fernando bowled another short ball. Sibanda was late on the pull and top-edged it to Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Two balls later, a 140 km/hr in-cutter burst through Justin Kemp's defence and pegged back the off stump.
Throughout his spell, Fernando used the heavy ball to gain the extra bit of bounce that unsettled batsmen on a placid pitch. To ensure that he didn't get too predictable, he varied pace and length regularly. He disguises his slower ball cleverly by spreading his fingers wide on either side of a vertical seam, while delivering it with no perceptible change in action. He set up Mark Boucher with a slow yorker, and followed it up with another slower ball that wasn't as full. Boucher got under it, was too early on the lofted drive and hit it straight to long-on.
Fernando then bowled Johan Botha to finish with 4 for 36 off ten overs. Given the heat, an unhelpful pitch and the fact that both teams scored over 300, it was an exemplary performance.
George Binoy is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo