x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Indian inertia on show on day one

They may now be ranked No 1 in the Test arena, but when it comes to tours of Sri Lanka, the key word for India is still inertia.

They may now be ranked No 1 in the Test arena, but when it comes to tours of Sri Lanka, the key word for India is still inertia. They have traditionally been slow starters, even on home soil, but when they cross the Palk Strait to play their island neighbour, the initial listlessness on view would shame a resting Olive Ridley turtle.

In 2001, Sri Lanka won the opening Test in Galle by 10 wickets, with Kumar Sangakkara scoring an unbeaten 105 after Sanath Jayasuriya had treated India's bowlers with customary contempt. Seven years later, the opening exchanges were at the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground and the trouncing was even more emphatic, by an innings and 239 runs. One of the four centurions in that game was Malinda Warnapura, who had reached three figures only once previously and who never did thereafter.

Before rain and bad light forced the curtain down on a one-sided opening day, Sri Lanka looked well on course to reprise those first-Test routs. It is dangerous to jump to conclusions on the basis of just 68 overs, but already the feeling is that India's battle-hardened veterans could spend a great deal of time on the field, chasing the ball and shadows in equal measure. There were mitigating circumstances, but the bowling was desperately poor for a team that aspires to cling to the top of the Test tree.

Ishant Sharma induced a couple of early edges but his first 10 overs went for 70. For every good delivery he bowled, there were three or four hit-me balls and the Sri Lanka batsmen were only too happy to oblige. To see Ishant bowl so dismally must have been galling for teammates and fans alike. Just over two years ago, he was putting Ricky Ponting, the prolific Australia captain, through the wringer in Perth. Since then, the pace has dropped, the wrist position is often awry and the accuracy that made him such a valuable long-spell bowler has disappeared. Bringing him back was always a gamble, and on this evidence, he is nothing like the bowler whose spells helped settle the Galle Test of 2008.

There was little to cheer on the slow-bowling front either. Harbhajan Singh, still labouring after a bout of viral fever, was economical without being a threat and it was Virender Sehwag who asked the more vexing questions. Had MS Dhoni held on to the chance that Sangakkara offered when on 65, the scoreboard damage might have been less severe. As it was, the drop merely brought back memories of 2008, when Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel made one blunder after another behind the stumps.

That left Abhimanyu Mithun, who acquitted himself well on debut without suggesting that he has the tools to seriously unsettle international sides. In the face of such modest opposition, Sangakkara and Tharanga Paranavitana settled in for the long haul. But for a wretched stroke from Sangakkara off one of the worst balls of the day, they would still have been together at stumps. For Paranavitana, it was a first century in his 11th Test.

He had the initial luck that most openers need and he built on that with some pugnacious strokes against pace and spin alike. Since Jayasuriya's retirement, the opening places have been like musical chairs, and the 28-year-old Paranavitana could not have timed his innings any better. Upul Tharanga, a far more fluent strokeplayer, had served notice with a hundred in the tour game, and this was the perfect riposte from the incumbent.

For Sangakkara, it was a third hundred in Galle, where he averaged just 44 before today. It took him just 136 balls and the Indians will be grateful for the moment of madness that ensured there would be no partnership between him and Mahela Jayawardene, who loves nothing more than to bat at this most picturesque of venues. With Thilan Samaraweera and Angelo Mathews to come, India's Olive Ridley bowlers will need to wake up on day two.

Else, yet another Lankan odyssey will start with chastening defeat. sports@thenational.ae