NAGPUR: Fast bowlers effective in the first hour, spinners doing a bulk of the bowling and damage for the rest of the day - Test cricket in India returned to familiar scenes. Pre-match talk was dominated by grass on the pitch, but on offer at VCA Stadium for the second Test was a normal Indian surface with a tinge of green that was decent enough for batting on the first day.
That Sri Lanka still stumbled after winning the toss can be attributed to lack of application on their part and some disciplined bowling. A number of them fell playing attacking shots, as the trusted Ashwin-Jadeja pair made sure that India ended the day on top despite playing with four bowlers instead of five, as they had been of late. Reaching 11/1 in reply to 205 was good work indeed. Lahiru Gamage bowled KL Rahul for seven.
Other than skipper Dinesh Chandimal, the rest were either overcautious or ultra adventurous. After a first session when they scored at snail’s pace to reach 47/2 after 27 overs, there were attempts to switch gears with fatal consequences. The understanding that cricket is not a game of extremes and good teams find a balance between attack and defence seemed to be absent in their plans.
Having had little to do on a green top at Eden Gardens for the first Test, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were pressed into service once the fast bowlers were done with their opening spells. There was not much turn on offer, but they kept things tight and reaped the benefits when Sri Lanka’s batsmen tried to force the pace. The combination of inept batting and accurate bowling was such that India didn’t feel the absence of the fifth bowler.
If the spinners took most of the wickets and the credit, Ishant Sharma too played an important role. Getting the ball to bounce when it was new, he marked his return to the Test XI with a controlled display. Not getting carried away by bounce, he kept it full outside off and got the openers. Umesh Yadav was slightly inconsistent in comparison and the lone bowler without a wicket.
There were no demons in the pitch. If there were any, they were in the minds and Dinesh Chandimal showed that runs could be scored provided one followed the basic principles of batting: play the ball on merit instead of deciding that it’s going to be either no run or four runs. How Indian batsmen go about it will determine what kind of task Sri Lanka face in the second innings.