The opening day of a Test match is significant in the context that it sets the tone for the rest of the game. Rarely does a team that has been put on the back foot on the first day of a Test manage to come back strongly and put the opposition under pressure. Accordingly, the hosts Sri Lanka will believe that they are in a position to dominate Pakistan in Galle, following wonderful centuries from Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara. Both batted magnificently in a partnership that tortured Pakistan for most part of the day.
It was a crucial knock for Dilshan since he hadn’t scored a Test hundred in over a year. This latest ton, and that too against a top team like Pakistan, will give him the confidence that despite age catching up on him he’s still good enough to contribute at the five-day level. The beauty of Dilshan’s knock was that he did not always look in trouble, but, like in the ODIs, was patient enough to see through the tough phases.
There was a period before lunch when the Pakistan spinners – Abdur Rehman and Saeed Ajmal -- were turning the ball and beating Dilshantime and again. He was even lucky to survive against Umar Gul. To his credit, Dilshan made full use of the slice of fortune he got, and went on to convert it into a substantial knock. This new-found ability of the Lankan opener, to maintain his calm under pressure, will go a long way in extending his international career.
As for Sangakkara, his hundred only reiterated why he is among the classiest players on earth. He played with equal élan through testing conditions as well as easy periods. Rarely did he look in trouble, even against Pakistan’s quality spinners. Even as Dilshan gave them hope with some fidgety defence, Sangakkara annoyed the opposition by never giving them a semblance of hope. It was the kind of knock we have come to typify of the former Lankan skipper over the years, and an innings which put the team in a position from where they can lose only if they play extremely poor cricket. Even after Dilshan’s departure, Sangakkara saw to it that Pakistan did not make a comeback into the game, courtesy a defiant partnership featuring his captain Mahela Jayawardene, who also made a refined half-century.
What Lanka need from here is to carry on the good work on day two, which would ensure that Pakistan would be under serious pressure to save the game from thereon – in other words, they would be playing catch up throughout the Test. On the other hand, if the bowlers can get Sangakkara and Jayawardene early, they can still pressurise Lanka’s fragile lower-order. Leaving side Thilan Samaraweera and Angelo Mathews there isn’t much batting in the Lankan line up. Early wickets will be the key.
--By A Cricket Analyst