India vs Sri Lanka: Lakmal leaves India in tatters as rain restricts play

Only 11.5 overs were possible on day one of the first test between India and Sri Lanka, which were enough for Suranga Lakmal to finish with impressive figures of 6-6-0-3, leaving the host struggling to adapt to the seaming conditions.

Sri Lanka's Suranga Lakmal celebrates after taking K. L. Rahul's wicket off the first ball of the day, in the first test between the two sides.   -  AFP

The hissing delivery from Suranga Lakmal reared like a cobra, moved late and brushed K. L. Rahul’s glove. For the batsman, it was the kiss of death.

This was also the first delivery of the opening Test at the Eden Garden, although it arrived only at 1.42 p.m. on a truncated first day marred by inclement weather.  

Scorecard and ball by ball details

Desiring to play in conditions they would encounter on the looming tour of South Africa, the Indians, rather bravely, opted for a seam-trap. The side was given a real working over by the lively Sri Lankan pacemen here on Thursday.

Only 11.5 overs were possible on a dark day of rain, poor light and floodlights but these 71 deliveries revealed the need for the Indians to change their methods and mind-set in such conditions.

The host was struggling at 17 for three when the players went off for the last time on a start-stop day. Friday promises more gripping action if the weather improves.  

Interestingly, India’s technically best equipped batsman on a seaming wicket, M. Vijay, watched the proceedings from the pavilion, left out of the eleven. His omission was incomprehensible.   

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Lakmal’s burst with the new ball threw up incredible figures – 6-6-0-3. He extracted bounce from a high-arm action, moved the ball away late in the corridor, got it to nip back and bowled from an ideal seam position. The Sri Lankan was sharp and gave away nothing.  

The juicy pitch offered lateral movement and bounce for the pacemen. The footwork of the batsmen was bound to be probed.

This was the sort of surface where the batsman had to essentially play straight and close to the body, leave deliveries outside off, collect runs with pushes in front of the wicket than big drives and wait patiently for the short, wide deliveries that could be despatched with horizontal bat shots.

Picking the line was critical. So was the judgment of length. The batsman had to cover for movement and play the ball late.  

For Sri Lanka, it was a good toss to win. With so much rain around, there was bound to be moisture on an already green pitch.

To his credit, Lakmal found his rhythm, length and direction straightaway. The cordon waited in anticipation. Given his methods – he has this habit of playing away from his body with less than adequate footwork – the left-handed Shikhar Dhawan was unlikely to succeed on this pitch. He, eventually, dragged a widish delivery from Lakmal on to his stumps.

Lakmal continued to bowl with venom, beating both Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli outside off. He varied his length, pitching fuller or landing it at the back-of-the-length area. The batsmen needed to watch the seam closely.

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The fired-up Lakmal eventually got Kohli leg-before with a delivery that nipped back. The Indian captain asked for a review – replays showed that the ball clipped the leg stump. The Indians, however, did not lose a review since it was the umpire’s call.

At the other end, Lahiru Gamage, who has a rather front-on release, offered sound support. He seamed the ball both ways from a good length, pitched it up on occasions in an attempt to swing it and went round the wicket too. His action, though, lends itself more to seam than swing.

Surviving on a seaming pitch is an art. Rahul Dravid was among the finest Indian batsmen when coping with these tracks. He displayed footwork, played the ball late and only when he needed to.     

However, this remains a young batting line-up, which will learn.