Test 3, day 1

Sri Lanka clearly hasn’t learned the art of putting the boot in when it can.

With the toss won and the innings off to a flier courtesy the openers putting on 93 runs inside 20 overs, the visitors had the opportunity to send India on a leather hunt. In the event, it ended the day having lost too many wickets; the innings tripped over its own inability to strike the right balance between momentum and substance.

The wicket at the Brabourne Stadium had turn. Not the kind of slow turn seen at Ahmedabad and Kanpur, either – here the turn was quick, pronounced, and accompanied by bounce whenever the spinners looped the ball up and allowed it to bite the deck.

So pronounced was the possibility of spin that Harbhajan, who typically starts with a flat, quick line, tossed the first ball of his first over up above the eye line, as early as the 16th over, and got it to drift across the batsman, bite, and turn.

The spinner went on to have one of his best days of this tour, clearly revelling in conditions that gave him considerable bang for the buck. Pragyan Ojha got sharp turn as well, but he is the more relentlessly attacking bowler, and that style is guaranteed to bleed runs on first/second day tracks absent top notch support in the field.

Spinners bowling on a first day wicket, no matter how amenable to turn, are wholly reliant on their mates in the field to keep the pressure on – and it is here that the Indian fielders let Harbhajan and Ojha down. Dilshan showed the way, and the rest caught on – throughout the day, the standout feature of the Lankan innings was their willingness to tip-tap and run, a practice that inevitably led to misfields. Worse, it took the edge off the bowling, as neither spinner found it possible to bowl a series of deliveries to any one batsman.

Vital stat: the first 80 overs of the Lankan innings saw 123 singles in a score of 329/6.

With all that they had going for them, the Lankan batsmen underperformed. Dilshan, who returned to form with a fluent century, got one of the most godawful umpiring decisions in recent memory, but his mates by and large gave it away after having the bowling at their mercy.

Paranavitana got a good ball from Harbhajan with loop and sharp turn that defeated the attempted cover drive, but Kumar Sangakkara played without the calm he is noted for, seemed ill at ease against both spinners, and ended up edging a delivery going down leg side; Mahela Jayawardene gave an object lesson on how to counter swing and seam, and then slapped a badly conceived pull to backward square; Samaraweera’s hard hands on a defensive prod was very un-Lankan in its execution; and Prasanna Jayawardene, after taking Ojha for successive fours at the start of the 80th over, gave it away with a badly conceived charge that saw him beaten for flight and holing out to mid on. If the Lankans ended the day not needing to hide their blushes, much of the credit goes to Dilshan’s craft at the top of the order, and Angelo Mathews’ fluidity in the lower  middle order.

Test cricket is largely a game of managing time. By scoring at a cracking pace almost throughout the day, the Lankans sought to buy time for their two spinners [and Sangakkara might yet have reason to rue leaving out Ajanta Mendis, as and when India bats in the fourth innings] to take out India’s in-form line-up twice. But by losing eight wickets in the day, the team ruined its own strategy: to really exploit the toss and the conditions to optimum, the visitors had to be looking at a score in excess of 500-550; the loss of three top middle order batsmen for a combined score of 48 negated that possibility.

For India, the fielding was uniformly patchy; ditto the bowling. Zaheer Khan seems yet to strike mid-season form. He is a rhythm bowler who, just now, is clearly off beat; when that happens he tends to try too hard, and ends up going all over the place. Sreesanth had a curate’s egg of a day, good only in patches when he throttled back his ambition and let motor memory do all the work. A classic example was his second spell, which he began with a near-unplayable series of outswingers and deliveries that jagged back in off the seam, but then ambition got the better of him, he changed his line and took to bowling from well wide of the crease, and ended up losing control and efficacy.

On balance, India will be the happier side going in at close. Lanka looks to end well short of the 500 that is a minimum requirement batting first on this track; an added plus is that the Indian batsmen will have maximum use of the good batting conditions of day two and to an extent day three. The one consolation for the Lankans is that the wicket is turning — and the Lankan fielding is streets ahead of India’s.

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21 thoughts on “Test 3, day 1

  1. I go through rumours just about everywhere, that absolutely nothing in Drag queen Gaga is original and that she is usually a copycat 😦 I nonetheless adore Lady Gaga coZ she is awesome!

  2. Prem:

    Nice to read report of the day’s play from you. It brings back memories.

    You had mentioned Dilshan got a bad decision. Could you elaborate? Also do you think it made a big difference in Lanka’s first innings total?

    So are you planning to do a report on each days play? I am sure we would love it if you do.

    • I’ll likely do an end of play review each day, mate. Not the kind I used to do for Rediff, with an elaborate run down of play, but more like this one, just riffs on the more prominent thoughts.

      Dilshan pushed in defense at the line of the ball; the ball turned a good four, five inches, missed the bat so clearly you didn’t even need replays to spot it, and went off the pad to short square. It was so very clear, in fact, that I was just telling someone here “why the fuck is Bajji appealing?”, when I saw Llong raise his damn finger.

      Could it have made a difference? Certainly — he was batting close to his best, and in tandem with Angelo Mathews could have done serious damage, especially since he seemed to show the intent to bat long. Another 100 runs on the board, a sore in the 500 territory, and the game changes — SL can attack harder. Now, an hour of the kind of run rate we are going at in these early overs and SL will be forced to defend, as they cannot risk India overhauling their total by say tomorrow morning and then putting on a huge lead, forcing SL to bat last on a turning track.

    • Exactly! 🙂 Is why I get so pissed when I hear apologies made about not having enough time, or the soil is this that or the other, whatever. If you want to make a decent track, 9.9 times out of 10 you can — the only real variably is very bad weather during the prep phase, which can screw up your preparation schedules. Intent, as you say, is the key.

  3. Hello Prem,

    the problem with Zaheer may be that he was rushed too fast into international cricket after his injury layoff. He should have played a couple of Ranji matches before he was eased into the international matches, that would have helped him gain some rythm.

    regarding the match position, I feel SL wasted a good position at the same time, India should have gone for the kill when they had Samaraweera, but they did not. I feel here Amit Mishra was missed. He would have been a much better bet than Ojha on this track. He was shelved after one bad performance where none of the Indian bowlers did better than him.

    I have a feeling that SL is better placed at this point of time. I hope that our famed batting line up does not succumb to pressure as it has often done in the past.

    • Ragu, right, I’ve been having some such thoughts myself. Zak could probably benefit most from a slightly more structured re-entry; I guess the fact he was rushed back in was a function of how the rest of our seamers were performing, or not.

      • Absolutely true. In these aspects we should learn from Aussies. Brett Lee was fit during ashes, but they did not try him in a test match for lac of practice.

        what are your thoughts on the team selection for T20s and ODIs?

    • Nice, though I am not sure I’d suggest KS batting is suffering due to captaincy — he has played some very good knocks after assuming office. I see what you mean, but personally that would be a stretch too far.

  4. Somewhat belated, but what do you think of Gambhir missing the test due to his sister’s wedding? Even SRT came to play immediately following his father’s demise, and he will forever be praised for that. Gambhir, in comparison, lost out on an opportunity to put his team/country first, IMHO.

    I know, family comes first and all, but weddings are by and large planned events — so are the Cricket games. Don’t you think Gambhir could have planned things better? (Sometimes you have to sacrifice for the greater good, no?)

    Even reading Dhoni’s pre-match comments, he sounded a little pissed, or disappointed in the least.

    God forbid, if India goes on to lose this game, many might hold a grudge against Gambhir/his sister 🙂

    Thoughts?

    • I think it is isn’t something that needs a round table debate, mate. I have a somewhat lukewarm equation with my sister — a function of us being temperamentally different, of an 8-year gap that meant I was in my teens when she was toddling, and so on. I went to Chennai a day before her wedding, and left the morning after. But another pair of siblings could be so close that they will always come first to each other. If a colleague applied to me for a fortnight’s leave to attend his sister’s wedding, I wouldn’t say no — or give him speeches about putting family aside for the greater good of Rediff and its readers. Why is it that it becomes a big deal when it comes to a cricketer? They are human too, and as entitled to a life as the rest of us. As long as he went through procedure, got permission from his HOD and his organization, I’d prefer to think it is his business entirely.

  5. Barring Bhajji, we seem to have gotten lucky breaks today, right ?? I watched for a brief while after we took the 2nd new ball – both SS and ZK were spraying it around, with some good ones throw in between. Seemed like almost no control at all.

    Bhajji, man, finally has come to the party. Good that he picked up 4. Sometimes, I get a sense (from his body language) that he seems to have the lost the edge. Is pressure of leading the spin dept getting to him ??

    Since AKumble retired, spin has really been a pale shadow of itself – not that scary anymore, eh ??

    • No. And you could put the blame on lots of factors. We no longer use spin as an aggressive weapon in limited overs games, so the bowlers’ muscle memory changes. We play too few Tests, so there is really no pressure on the bowlers to change. And so on. Pity.

  6. Good pitch. SL’s performance indicates they are going to be as agressive as possible to give them the best chance of securing a win. Our bowling could’ve used the conditions more effectively. But, that’s water under the bridge. Early days, but SL maybe slightly ahead on having the upper hand, imo. It’s up to our batsmen to respond and take back the initiative.

  7. Prem – feel the balance is not that bad. One felt the same way at end of ashes deciding test when eng were some 330 odd for 7 on a silar wicket. They went onto win thanks to a large 1st innings lead. India have to get a 1st innings lead and that won’t be easy as this will be better for murali and herath than either of the two earlier venues kulasekhara is a decent inclusion. Tom she be interesting.

    • Yeah, tomorrow should be fun, and I agree this is way better for Murali and Herath. Trouble is, with a total around or sub 400, you don’t have the leeway to really attack with the spinners, and that gives India the option of playing the patience game, if they are so inclined — for instance, if they decide to prod along at around 3 rpo with the focus on not losing wickets, SL gets into a situation, especially after the follow on target is averted, where every run pushes it further behind the eight ball — and that is when you tend to go flat out defensive, negatingany advantage the spinners might have. Overall — “pregnant with possibilities”, to quote the cliche.

  8. An excellent summary of the day’s play..Like reading your match reports when u do them occasionally…anyways looks like an interesting test match..hopefully will go to braboune on the final day if it looks like a close match

    • Totally. 360 overs left in the game. Hard to put the odds on a draw at above the 20 per cent mark, if that. I guess tomorrow will pretty much decide.

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