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Match reports

India v Australia, 2009-10

Wisden's review of India v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, 2009-10

Nagraj Gollapudi
At Ahmedabad, November 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 2009. Drawn. Toss: India.
The contrast between the start and end of the match was striking. Inside the first hour Sri Lanka, led by Welagedara's probing left-arm swing, knocked off four top-order wickets. A result seemed certain. But what unfolded over the better part of the next five days was nothing short of a snooze-fest as the pitch remained hard as granite on which champion bowlers were rendered useless and batsmen prospered.
At the start, the visitors would not have imagined they would wrest control of the match so quickly. Their first-choice fast bowlers - Thilan Thushara Mirando and Nuwan Kulasekara - were both declared unfit minutes before the toss, and Welagedara had hurried into his whites five minutes before the start. He was playing his first Test since his debut against England in December 2007. Dammika Prasad, three Tests under his belt, was included for his big heart and the ability to reverse-swing the ball.
The raw new-ball pair were surprisingly nerveless, and it was the Indians who found trouble early on, as the bowlers made full use of the morning moisture. At 32 for four, India were wobbling dangerously, and without an uncharacteristic 27th Test century from Dravid they might have ceded control completely of the game. Dravid's future had been in question after he was dropped from the preceding one-day series against Australia. But now he retrieved the situation yet again for India - this time with belligerent strokeplay, as he added positive intent to his famed mental strength.
Even in the company of aggressors such as Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh, Dravid never relented. He opened gateways when none seemed to exist. When Sangakkara packed the off side with deep point, short extra cover and mid-off, Dravid still managed to find gaps in the field. Little wonder then that, out of his unbeaten 177 by the end of the first day - the most he had ever scored in a day in a Test - Dravid had collected 110 in boundaries. During his innings he became only the fifth man to score 11,000 runs in Tests. Dhoni also reached his century, his second in Tests, scampering ones and twos.
Dravid's aggression left his team-mates gasping: at lunch Laxman, who had taken a nap to try to forget his early dismissal, woke up to find India in a strong position. He was told that Dravid was leading the fightback, and had hit the slow left-armer Herath for six just before lunch. Laxman had to pinch Dravid to confirm that.
However, on the second morning Welagedara bowled Dravid without addition, and the Sri Lankans wasted no time wrapping up the Indian tail. Their batsmen then retaliated strongly, building a mammoth total of 760, the highest in a Test in India. Dilshan and Sangakkara led the initial assault, laying a strong platform for the two Jayawardenes.
Mahela, Sri Lanka's most reliable batsman, assumed control on the second afternoon, after Dilshan and Sangakkara fell in quick succession. Showing amazing focus for the next two days, Jayawardene reached his sixth Test double-century, passing 9,000 runs, and put on 351 for the sixth wicket with his namesake Prasanna, a new Test record, eclipsing the 346 of Jack Fingleton and Don Bradman for Australia against England at Melbourne in 1936-37 (Bradman dropped to No. 7 in that innings, promoting some expendable tailenders while the wicket was wet, and scored 270).
The Indian bowlers were inconsistent, with the exception of Zaheer Khan, returning to international cricket after a four-month lay-off with a shoulder injury sustained in the IPL. Harbhajan Singh, leading the spin attack, had a miserable match, while leg-spinner Mishra became only the sixth Indian to concede more than 200 runs in a Test innings.
Sri Lanka possibly missed the chance of forcing a result when they failed to accelerate on the third evening and the first session on the fourth day. They eventually left themselves 135 overs to bowl India out a second time, but solid resistance - notably in the form of hundreds by Gambhir and Tendulkar - quelled their hopes. Tendulkar's century was the 43rd of a Test career that had begun 20 years and one day before this match started.
Muralitharan was the big disappointment and, as Sangakkara admitted, a concern. The unrelenting surface could be blamed to an extent, but good batsmen were beginning to find a way to counter Murali as his powers waned. Here, he managed only three wickets in the match, including a solitary top-order batsman, while the last time he had bowled more than 20 overs in any Test innings without taking a wicket - as happened in the second innings here - was almost ten years previously, against Zimbabwe at Harare in December 1999.
In the end the main culprit was the dead pitch. Sunil Gavaskar felt that the groundsman could work on Gujarat's roads, so flat was the pitch, while Sourav Ganguly, another former captain, said that another Test could have been played on the same track.
Man of the Match: D. P. M. D. Jayawardene.
Close of play: First day, India 385-6 (Dravid 177, Harbhajan Singh 2); Second day, Sri Lanka 275-3 (D. P. M. D. Jayawardene 36, Samaraweera 45); Third day, Sri Lanka 591-5 (D. P. M. D. Jayawardene 204, H. A. P. W. Jayawardene 84); Fourth day, India 190-2 (Gambhir 74, Mishra 12).