Kolkata: After having been made wait for four soulless hours on a dull Thursday morning that ran into the afternoon, the play finally got underway at Eden Gardens at 1:30 PM, only to peter out before it actually started, courtesy some more drizzle.
Indian openers–KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan–had to walk back just after marking their guards. Sri Lanka pacer Suranga Lakmal, who was at the top of his mark, had to return the red cherry to umpire Nigel Llong, leaving the Kolkata crowd exasperating.
Although this time around it was a 10-minute snooze.
The twitchy spectators at the Eden, roared once again as Lakmal ran into bowl, and with a jaffa first up, he silenced the crowd in a jiffy.
Rahul, who was 50 runs away from a world record in Test, was the batsman that was walking back to the pavilion for second time in last 12 minutes, but this time, he wouldn't return anytime soon.
The ball, an absolute corker, took off from length getting a faint edge of Rahul’s bat and straight into the mittens of Niroshan Dickwella. All the pre-match babble around the green surface and overcast conditions came to life in a space of a single delivery.
The green underneath and the grey above, the floodlights in the afternoon, the rain in November and a Sri Lankan fast bowler forcing an error from an in-form Indian opener. It was an amalgamation of too many stranger things and all seemed a little upside down.
It made Eden Gardens look like Eden Park.
The relaid pitch at the venue made India revisit its age-old predicament, which is battling in the seaming friendly conditions. Something that Virat Kohli and Co will have to deal with from the start of 2018.
But, despite all the help, credit must be given to Lakmal, who was able to maximize his skill whenever there is some assistance.
He was Lanka’s leading bowler when the Islanders 2016/2017 tour of South Africa picking 12 wickets in five innings, including a five-for in the first Test at Port Elizabeth helping his side roll out Proteas for 286, after the hosts elected to bat.
His victims included Stephen Cook, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, skipper Faf du Plessis and Keshav Maharaj. Lanka ended losing the match by 206 runs
He followed it up with claiming six wickets in the second Test at Cape Town. Sri Lanka lost the match by 282 runs propelling hosts to clinch the series.
Lakmal’s delivery to Rahul was no fluke as he continued to torment the robust Indian top order. In the following five balls he bowled, he managed to cut Pujara into half, drew an inside that almost went back on to the sticks and ensured the Saurashtra captain was at his alert best.
Pujara comes into the Test match with scores of 204, 3, 182 in his last two Ranji Trophy matches.
Lakmal bowled two more overs without giving any run off the bat. Pujara managed to keep out 11 off those 12 deliveries, including a few whizzing pass his outside edge, while Dhawan changed his ends with the help of a leg-bye in the only ball he faced.
Pujara kept his wicket alive by being extremely meticulous and careful, while Dhawan trying to unfurl one of his booming cover drive, dragged one back onto his stumps.
Next man to walk out at number four is Virat Kohli. And despite the fall of an Indian batsman’s wicket, his entry is celebrated with fanfare. Finally something familiar.
Swoosh! Kohli, gets a peach upfront! Misses his outside-edge by a whisker. Lakmal afforded a smile. The Kolkata crowd hushed. The fear of losing Kohli crept in. The dark clouds got darker, the mood gloomier.
Kohli was yet to get off the mark and on his eighth ball which was darted onto the middle-leg stump, Kohli miscues a flick toward mid wicket, small legs of Rangana Hearth cannot get there as the ball falls just short of the 39-year old.
How dearly the spectators wanted it to rain then. And it did, after 50-balls of play the game came to another standstill. Rain followed by the fading light made the game halt for good 50 minutes and in the meantime players took Tea.
After the break, Lakmal continued his nagging length to finish his fifth over and completing his fifth maiden with two wickets to his name.
Lakmal came onto bowl his sixth over in the day and got the prized wicket of Kohli trapping him leg before wicket for a 11-ball duck.
What was interesting to see was, even though Lakmal isn’t express, most of his deliveries that breezed past the edge and the ones which were left alone, ended up with wicket-keeper Dickwella’s fingers pointing skywards. The amount of purchase he was getting by simply hitting the right length was immaculate. It wasn’t the same for the Lahiru Gamage, the bowler bowling from the pavilion end.
The 30-year old bowler has bowled some terrific spells in the past, but they have remained unsung probably because it didn’t catapult Sri Lanka to victory. Be it his three for 90 in Christchurch against New Zealand in 2014 or his three for 71 in the next Test at Wellington. On both occasions, his spells did not get much attention as the Kiwis won the contests with comfortable margins.
Lakmal’s three for 90 at Lord’s in English summer of 2016 never made the front pages as the game ended in a drab draw.
Thursday’s burst in Kolkata where he ended the Day 1 with blemish-less figures of six overs, six maidens for three wickets of three first-rate batsmen, a commendable effort that should be applauded and remembered for a long time. Even if the end result is the same as it was in Port Elizabeth, Wellington or Christchurch.