Sri Lankans had taken most points out of the one and half days of Test Cricket that was possible at Chennai. The Lankan Lions who had been humiliated in the One Day Series with a huge margin of 1-6 had their pride at stake. Their warm up first class game at Bangalore against the Board President’s XI side added more humiliation as they struggled at 171/9 when they had an opportunity to bat. India after winning the toss did the right thing by electing to bat, the idea was straight and simple – bat as long as you can or in other words – keep the Lankans on the field and deny them the batting practice. But the Chepauk wicket simply had another script written on it. With limited resources, Sri Lanka easily outmatched the Indians with both ball and the bat. May be it could have been the reverse had Sri Lanka batted first. One can however safely say that Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan had the star studded Indian batsmen play according to their tunes.
The TNCA Ground Staff were the real heroes!
To begin with credit should first be given to the ground staff who had done an incredible and a tireless job in getting the ground ready for Test Match Cricket. Each day they were fighting against Nature. Cyclone Baaz came as expected and made a pathetic situation in the city of Chennai. Three complete days were called off due to the heavy rains and the wet conditions in the ground. Every one said in particular the Chennai locals that the Test Match was gone and they meant that all the 5 days were gone with the rain. Those words were to be believed after watching various TV Channels showing clips of people moving out of their homes lying in low-level areas using boats. The two rivers in Chennai – Cooum and Adyar rivers overflowed to submerge the city. As soon as the sun came out brightly on the 4th day morning, the ground staff got onto their jobs of mopping up and they succeeded in making the ground in shape by 2:30 PM. These people were the real candidates for the ‘Man of the Match award’ which had gone to Chaminda Vaas.
And India gets bowled out for its lowest total against Lanka…
Finally at 3:00 PM on Day 4, Chaminda Vaas ran into bowl to Gautam Gambhir and the first ball was a real shocker to every one. That ball would have broken many aspiring fast bowlers’ hearts! Vaas was bowling with a brand new cherry and the ball hardly bounced upto the lower half of Gambhir’s pads! Gambhir was soon done in by the low bounce as he failed to get his bat down in time to one which kept very low and Vaas has now cleverly understood that it was a wicket to bowl stump to stump and bowl the cutters taking away any pace off the wicket. One delivery that Vaas had bowled might have clocked at 127 KMPH but after pitching on the wicket the speed fell down to 105 KMPH which was more or less the same speed of an Anil Kumble’s quicker one. The outfield had taken quite a beating from the heavy rains but Sehwag still made the ball race away to the fence whenever he found the gaps. Sehwag might have well heard Mr.Arun Lal’s report before the match got underway. Arun Lal reported that the play would begin at 3:00 PM and that it would be a 38-overs-a-side. Oh my God, Arun Lal and Sehwag both haven’t come out of their One Day memories – 11 ODIs on trot that India has played! Sehwag raced away to his traditional score of thirty slapping the new ball bowlers square of the wicket but soon was forced to edge an easy catch to the keeper – that was wicket no.2 for Vaas.
With the fall of Sehwag’s wicket normalcy of a Test Match got restored and the Indian batsmen started to struggle to get on terms with the low bounce track. Skipper Dravid and Sachin showed great technique to combat the threat posed by Vaas and Murali and saw India through Day 4 at 90/2 after 32.3 overs.
The final day’s play saw the struggle continue and to add up to the Indian batting struggle was the fact that there were these star batsmen and each one had to be over cautious for their own personal reasons. Take the case of Sachin Tendulkar, he was back into Test Cricket after a long time and he had to get into the groove and he was battling hard to get his 35th ton that would have surpassed Gavaskar’s record. Then you had Laxman who had to bat the way he did because he was a ready option to be dropped from the XI with Yuvraj and Kaif pushing hard for a Test Spot. And the last one was obviously Sourav Ganguly – who was facing one of the most difficult examinations of his life that of making his second Test Match Debut! The first wicket to go today was Dravid who poked at Vaas and Sangakkara who had earlier dropped Sachin off the same bowler didn’t repeat the mistake again. Sangakkara was upto the stumps to Vaas and the left armer bowled maidens after maidens with ease.
Muralitharan then gave the knock out punch by getting Sachin struck onto his pads in front of the stumps. Sourav Ganguly then walked in and after surviving some magical deliveries from Murali got off to his first runs by sweeping the champion off spinner. Laxman was in a shell fighting hard not to lose his wicket; he took 27 balls to get off the mark. Singles are always hard to come when Ganguly and Laxman are batting together and that was something poor VVS forgot. Not to blame Ganguly but Laxman set himself for a quick run to mid wicket and Ganguly realizing that the ball was going straight to substitute Tharanga declined the run and sent VVS back. It was too late for the Hyderabadi Stylist and by then Sangakkara had knocked off the stumps. Both batsmen were still standing at their ends even when the third umpire’s decision was pending which only showed that they weren’t happy with each other! Sourav was now joined by the ‘Breath of fresh air’ Mahendra Singh Dhoni who was right there making his Test Match debut. Ganguly fell to the trap put up by Atapattu who had packed the off side and the left hander sliced his drive straight to Dilshan who took a nice rolling catch at short point. Wickets then went down quickly except for a small partnership of 31 between Dhoni and Kumble. Dhoni was now left with not many options and he was the last man to get out as he lofted Malinga Bandara to the long off fielder’s hands. That was Malinga’s 1st Test wicket and India were shot out for just 167 which has now become their lowest ever against Sri Lanka in Tests. Believe it or not but Sehwag with his dashing knock was the top scorer making 36 and Dhoni made 30 runs – not bad a start to his Test Career at all. Chaminda Vaas was the chief destroyer with figures of 21-14-20-4.
The wicket gets better and Jayawardene plays a strokeful innings
Irfan Pathan struck in his last ball of his first over forcing Avishka Gunawardene to edge his away swinger. Sangakkara and Jayawardene then built the innings by playing some delightful strokes as the wicket started to ease out under bright sun shine. The odd ball was keeping really low but the extra pace of Pathan and Agarkar was indeed helping the ball to come onto the bat. Rahul Dravid then resorted to his new ‘Batting All rounder’ Sourav Ganguly but he could hardly make any impact and was taken for some runs. Ganguly didn’t bowl that badly but he just didn’t have what it takes to be a Test Match bowler atleast today. Dravid soon employed spin at both ends using Harbhajan and Kumble. Kumble’s top spinner was too good for Sangakkara and finally the fifty runs partnership was broken. Sangakkara’s wicket saw another fifty runs partnership come through and this time it was between Jayawardene and the solid Samaraweera.
Jayawardene began to dominate the Indian bowling and he raced away to a breezy 71 studded with 14 fours and a classy six off Harbhajan Singh. Jayawardene’s century was denied by Kumble as the bowler got a bad pad decision in his favour. Replay showed that Mahela was unlucky as the ball didn’t take any part of his bat. Atapattu walked in at No. 5 and he didn’t last long as he made a cardinal mistake of going for a pull shot and the ball didn’t bounce and skidded through to disturb his stumps – Anil Kumble was looking really promising now after taking his 3rd wicket. With just half an hour to go before the close of play, the two Captains decided to end the match.
Sri Lanka ended at 168/4 which was 1 run ahead of India and they can say that they had taken 1 point from this match and India 0. However the series is just 0-0 and better conditions at the Kotla in Delhi should be a different proposition. It’s the same ground in which Anil Kumble got his ‘perfect 10’ against Pakistan. So let’s now wait for the action to begin from the 10th!