Last week in Kolkata, on that dramatic Day 5 afternoon of the first Test, Sri Lanka required to bat out a little less than 30 overs to save the game. We were just four overs into their innings and both openers — Sadeera Samarawickrama and Dimuth Karunaratne — were back in the hut, played on, to the deliveries which they could have comfortably left alone under those circumstances.
Were they trying to chase down the target?
Well, if that approach was not enough to confuse you then what we witnessed from the Sri Lankan batters on the first day of the Nagpur Test, was even more puzzling.
On a wicket, which is likely to break in the latter half of the match, it was an excellent toss to win for the visitors, especially with Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera in their line-up. To put pressure on India, a decent score in the first innings was the need of the hour for the Lankans.
But undoubtedly, 205 was not the kind of total which they were looking at and they have no one but themselves to blame for this debacle.
On the third ball of the day, young Samarawickrama crisply drove Ishant Shama for a boundary straight through mid-off to get things going. With a First-Class strike-rate of 81.42, back home at the domestic circuit, the youngster has a reputation of being an aggressor and on that true Jamtha wicket, against India’s second choice new-ball attack, he had the perfect platform to showcase his capabilities.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, he flattered to deceive, at least in the first innings.
After a promising looking 15-ball 13, he got out to Ishant, trying to drive away from his body and offering a catch to Cheteshwar Pujara at first-slip — a typical new-ball dismissal.
However, following that early setback, the Sri Lankans inexplicably went into their shell. They finished the first session with a run-rate of 1.74. Probably, the Islanders were desperate, not to have a repeat of the second innings of Kolkata.
But, getting bogged down on a Day 1 pitch, which had no discernible demons, was not exactly the right approach. The dead bats of Dimuth Karunaratne and Lahiru Thirimanne in the first session, allowed the Indian bowlers to bowl to their lines, especially Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who were eased into their spells.
Thereafter, the batsmen couldn’t get out of the hole they had dug themselves and at the end of the day, India’s spin duo walked away with seven Sri Lankan wickets on a pitch which wasn’t exactly a raging turner.
“[On] the first day of a Test match when you lose seven wickets to spin on a wicket that has not done much, is disappointing,” even Sri Lanka’s head coach Nic Pothas had to agree with the author’s point of view in the post-day press conference.
Thirimanne was the first casualty to spin. After plodding his way to a painstaking 57-ball nine, he tried to slog-sweep Ashwin and got bowled in the process. During his stay at the crease, Sri Lanka scored 24 runs in 20.1 overs, which shows how conservative their approach was. It felt like an endorsement for dot balls.
Sri Lanka went into Lunch at 47 for 2 in 27 overs.
In the second session, they tried to rectify their mistake by breaking the shackles, despite losing Karunaratne and their best batsman, Angelo Mathews, in the process. By hitting a six off Ashwin early in his innings, Dinesh Chandimal provided some sort of hope for the Lankans but he was losing partners from the other end. At Tea, Sri Lanka were 151 for 4.
The third session saw a complete domination by the Indian spinners as the visitors lost 6 for 45. After bowling just 10 overs in Kolkata, the Ashwin-Jadeja pair struck in familiar fashion in that post-Tea period, and like the last series, in which the pair picked up 31 scalps, the Lankans were clueless.
Six of the 10 Sri Lankan wickets fell to straight deliveries. Overall, their batting effort looked like a confused college student who is yet to decide his career’s objectives.
In hindsight, one also needs to praise the effort of the Indians for keeping it really tight throughout the Sri Lankan innings. Virat Kohli mostly set 7-2 and 6-3 fields and all four bowlers were disciplined, and hardly gave away any freebies to the batsmen to score of.
But, if you want to put the number one ranked Test team under pressure, that too in their own backward, then you have to be proactive and take those calculative risks, which Sri Lankan did not do on Friday. Now with a below-par score on the board, they have no option but to chase the game.