Mahela Jayawardene ground the Indian bowlers into the Ahmedabad dust, almost ruling out a defeat for Sri Lanka in the first Test. This was only the second time that Sri Lanka took a first-innings lead in India, and only the first time they crossed 450 in the country. Jayawardene’s sixth double-century, and twelfth 150, was one of his easier ones because for more than half his innings India didn’t try to take his wicket, and only towards the end was he made to work hard for singles. The bowlers were not helped by the slowness of the pitch and the indiscipline of the spinners, who managed just one wicket in 102 overs, that too a dodgy decision against Angelo Mathews.
Jayawardene was supported by Thilan Samaraweera in the first session, Prasanna Jayawardene in the second and third, and by muddled thinking from India in both. Their fast bowlers couldn’t generate any swing, conventional or reverse, but still looked the only ones capable of making things happen. The only blip for Sri Lanka came when Samaraweera was set up by Zaheer Khan and dismissed by Ishant Sharma, but Jayawardene had started assuredly, and never gave India a serious look-in. Despite that Mathews wicket to what turned out to be the last ball before lunch, the Jayawardenes thwarted any hopes of a quick Indian comeback.
Sri Lanka started the day 151 runs behind, knowing they needed a lead of at least 70 runs to compensate for having to bat last on a pitch that was turning. But the problem with that turn was its slowness, and both Jayawardene and Samaraweera negotiated it comfortably in the morning. India were made to bowl spinners for the first 10 overs before the new ball was due. And in a move that spoke a lot about their attitude, they came out in the containment mode, with a deep point for Harbhajan Singh. Not a single shot went there, and the fielder watched late-cuts from Jayawardene go to the third-man boundary.
The only blotch on Jayawardene’s morning came when Amit Mishra drew an edge from him, but the ball died on Rahul Dravid at slip. Twenty-nine runs and two maidens came in those first 10 overs, the last of which had Mishra beating Samaraweera with a googly and missing out on an lbw call. Both batsmen reached fifties during that spell, and brought up their ninth 100-run stand. That last over was about the best Mishra had bowled, but MS Dhoni went for pace from the 81st over.
The sixth over with the new ball, bowled by Zaheer, was the best of the day from India’s perspective. He beat Samaraweera with an away-going delivery, got him into an uncertain position with a bouncer, and then hit him in the midriff with another. Ishant continued from there in the next over, beating him with one that held its line. And then came a pull shot Samaraweera would otherwise have kept along the ground, but was hurried into this time.
Jayawardene made sure India wouldn’t feel too excited when, two overs later, he drove Zaheer for three boundaries in four balls: through mid-on, wide of midwicket, and through covers. The last one of those shots took Jayawardene to 74, Sri Lanka to within 78 of India’s total, and Zaheer out of the attack. The spinners came on soon, and failed to make an impact as Sri Lanka started to steadily push the accelerator.
Prasanna looked to sweep Harbhajan, while runs kept coming effortlessly for Jayawardene. Dhoni spread the field, but Mishra and Harbhajan struggled to keep the same batsman on strike for a considerable period. Despite the defensive mindset, India could manage only four maidens in the first two sessions. India’s bowling was most insipid in the second session and the Jayawardenes capitalised fully. Without much fuss, Prasanna reached 42 by tea, and Jayawardene 142, another of his tons that seemed inevitable once he got in. By tea, the two had added 108 off 27.4 overs, 84 of which were run.
Post tea, both sides called ceasefire. Dhoni got spinners to bowl from round the stumps with 6-3 leg-side fields, while the Jayawardenes didn’t seem interested in taking too many risks, and were happy scoring in ones and twos and occasional boundaries. In the 144th over of the innings, Sri Lanka ran their 200th single. In the 158th over, Zaheer bowled the 17th no-ball; and India had got only 21 runs from four of their top-six batsmen. While India managed to stem the run-flow in the final session – a total of 108 runs came in 36 overs – it didn’t help much because there were still two days left in the match, and Sri Lanka got closer and closer to not having to bat again.
The senior Jayawardene didn’t let fatigue get the better of him and reached the double with two overs to go, while Prasanna took the opportunity to move towards what would be a risk-free second century. BY Surid Saeed