India wasted a good start to finish the opening day of the first Test match against Sri Lanka at 163 for five in their first innings here today.
A fine 79-run opening stand had given the tourists a good platform to consolidate but the Indians lost too many wickets towards the end of the day to squander the initiative.
Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya did not have any hesitation in putting in India to bat on a lush green wicket that promised help to the seamers. It seemed an ideal situation for the Sri Lankans, who went into the match with four medium-pacers hoping to capitalise on the conditions.
But Shiv Sunder Das and Sadagopan Ramesh batted with tremendous grit and determination and kept the Sri Lankan bowlers at bay till the middle of the second session.
However, once Ramesh was out for 42 in the 41st over to Muralitharan, Indians lost wickets at regular intervals and did not have any partnership going.
India lost four wickets in the final session of play after being in a comfortable position at 95 for one at tea.
Muralitharan gave his side vital wickets of Ramesh and Rahul Dravid, out for 12, while Dilhara Fernando dismissed Kaif and Hemang Badani in successive overs at the fag end of the day to bring Sri Lanka back into the game.
Captain Sourav Ganguly, 10, and Samir Dighe, 2, were battling it out in the middle when the stumps were drawn for the day.
The Indians started very slowly concentrating on not losing any early wickets. The first five overs produced just one run.
Sri Lanka, keen to capitalise on the seamer-friendly conditions, set a very attacking field with three slips and two gullies ready to pounce on any edge the batsmen produced. Chaminda Vaas had four slips in place and at one time there were nine players in catching positions.
Das and Ramesh were however very cautious and aware of their task. They stuck to their wickets doggedly and frustrated their opponents by defensive play in the rain-interrupted morning session which forced play to be halted for about 40 minutes.
Ramesh survived a scare when he seemed to have edged a Ruchira Perera delivery to wicket-keeper Kumar Sangakkara, preferred over Romesh Kaluwitharana for this match.
However, there was just a half-hearted appeal from the fielders and umpire Asoka de Silva gave the benefit of doubt to the batsman who was on three at that time with the total reading six.
India had scored just 16 runs in the 20 overs of the opening session but the important thing was they didn't lose any wickets.
The second session saw a more positive approach from Das and Ramesh who had both settled down by then. Runs started coming more easily and there was better understanding between the two in running between the wickets.
Muthiah Muralitharan troubled the batsmen right from his first over, getting a lot of turn and bounce from the pitch which should offer hope for the Indians. As the pitch wears down over the next couple of days, it would become increasingly difficult for the batsmen and the Indians can hope to exploit the conditions when Sri Lanka bat in the fourth innings.
Muralitharan provided the first wicket in the 41st over when he invited Ramesh to drive a flighted delivery. Ramesh took the bait and went on the front-foot but was unable to reach to the pitch of the ball. He tried to check his shot at the last minute but only managed to give a simple catch to Jayasuriya at point. His 129-ball knock contained two fours.
Mohammad Kaif, surprisingly sent ahead of Rahul Dravid, gave Das good company. For a man playing only his second Test, Kaif looked a picture of calm and poise as he took his time to settle down. He avoided anything remotely outside the off-stump, realising the key was to stay at the wicket for as long as possible.
However, Das, who had concentrated hard all this time, got out in a very uncharacteristic fashion, edging an outgoing delivery from Vaas to be caught by Jayasuriya in first slip. His 40 came off 169 balls and had just one four. India lost their second wicket at 105.
Dravid could not stay for long and was back in the pavillion after making just 12 runs. He stepped out to drive Muralitharan but missed the line. The ball rose high after touching his bat and pads and Russel Arnold took a good diving catch at silly point.
India were three down for 124 and with about 15 overs remaining for the day, the Indians were expected to take it easy and not lose any further wickets.
But that was not to be, and Kaif and Hemang Badani were dismissed by Fernando in quick succession.
Kaif, who impressed with his shot selection and timing, opened up towards the latter half of his innings and played some attractive drives. But he was totally beaten by a sharply incoming delivery and was clean bowled after making 37, that came off 144 balls and included two boundaries.
Badani played in a one-day mould and paid the price. He went for swipe against a widish delivery and edged it to the wicketkeeper to bring his innings to an inglorious end. He made just six runs.
Sourav Ganguly, who came at the fall of Dravid, was slightly tentative in the start. He was foxed by Muralitharan on a couple of occasions but was slowly getting better with his timing and placement.
The final two sessions were extended to compensate for the loss of ten overs in the morning but there were still five overs to be bowled for the day when play was called off for the day.
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