Much at odds with the aesthetics of the surroundings, the standard of cricket at the Galle International Stadium yesterday could not be described as high-class. The second day of the first Test between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka seemed more like a contest to see which side could give the other the advantage.
There was a Bangladeshi celebration for a catch that turned into a six as the fielder was standing on the ropes, two Sri Lankan dropped catches, and only two wickets that were actually earned among the eight that fell on the day. Then, of course, there was Tamim Iqbal's mad run-out which surrendered the visitors' initiative after a century-plus opening stand.
At the end of it all, Sri Lanka had their noses decidedly in front with a first innings total of 494, powered by Kusal Mendis's 194, after resuming on 321 for four and then getting Bangladesh to 133 for two at stumps -- a lead of 361 runs. Bangladesh are not completely out of it however, as they have skipper Mushfiqur Rahim batting with Soumya Sarkar, who was unbeaten on 66.
On a pitch that is getting slower but is still placid, Tamim and Soumya put on 118 runs for the first wicket, Bangladesh's fourth century-plus opening stand in Tests, before Bangladesh's habit of losing the plot close to the end of a session reared its head. With 10 overs to go to the close of play in the 36th over, Tamim, batting on 57, missed a ball down the leg side from left-arm Chinaman bowler Lakshan Sandakan and the ball brushed his pads on the way to keeper Niroshan Dickwella, who caught it and immediately went up in appeal to umpire Aleem Dar, who seemed unimpressed. Tamim, for reasons he knows best, decided to set off for a run and Dickwella was only too happy to run him out.
Mominul Haque then gave false promise with a lofted four off Sri Lanka captain Rangana Herath, before ill-advisedly playing back to a ball from off-spinner Dilruwan Perera that pitched on middle from around the wicket and straightened sharply to be out leg-before for seven.
The two wickets were huge letdowns at the end of the day precisely because Soumya and Tamim were looking completely in control for most of their time together after they walked out with around 45 minutes to go till tea. Soumya, whose foot movement early in the innings was minimal to say the least, benefited from a dropped chance at gully by Perera when on four in the third over bowled by Suranga Lakmal, but he put his head down thereafter and looked solid.
He unfurled a few classy shots, but the best one was a shimmy down the track off Perera in the 26th over which deposited the ball dead straight back over the bowler's head. He reached his 50 with a single to long-off off his 86th ball in the 30th over.
Tamim's stroke of luck came when he was on 28 in the 18th over when Dickwella dropped an edge off the bowling of Perera, but either side of that Tamim looked completely untroubled by the pitch and the bowling, until his brain-fade. He was in a mood to dominate the spinners as he hit Perera for a pair of down-the-wicket fours over mid-on and mid-off when the off-spinner was introduced in the sixth over of the innings.
Earlier, Sri Lanka, resuming play on a dominant 321 for four, were all out for 494 an hour after lunch after at one stage being 398 for four. Those numbers hint at a spirited comeback from Bangladesh, but it was Sri Lanka who let the visitors' back into the match with a raft of rash shots.
Only one wicket, that of Herath, fell to a defensive stroke as he became Mustafizur Rahman's second victim when a slower off-cutter reared sharply and caught the edge of the bat on way to Soumya at first slip.
The rest fell to irresponsible shots and brain-freezes. Overnight batsman Dickwella made his intentions clear early in the day when he hit Subashis Roy's fourth ball for six over midwicket. Mustafizur then trod on the ropes, completely avoidable if he had been aware of his position, when catching a top-edged Mendis hook at fine leg.
In the 104th over, Mendis's charmed life came to an end when he lofted Mehedi Hasan Miraz to long on where Tamim caught the ball, threw it up before momentum carried him over the boundary and stepped back to complete the dismissal. Mendis ended his innings on 194 off 285 balls with 19 fours and four sixes.
Dickwella too, when he had the bowlers at his mercy and batting on a run-a-ball 75, threw his wicket away by slogging across the line off Mehedi, whose turn deceived the left-hander, resulting in an outside edge caught at point in the 110th over. Even with these two losses, Sri Lanka went to lunch in a strong position at 443 for six. Herath's wicket followed after the break but the next one -- Lakmal's run-out after he sprinted for a non-existent run without even looking at partner Perera in the 126th over -- proved that the heat gets to the home side too.
Perera then swiped across the line off Mehedi's bowling and was trapped in front for 51, before Bangladesh's best bowler of the day with four for 113 helped end the innings by running from mid-off to cover to take a fantastic catch to dismiss Sandakan and give Shakib Al Hasan his first wicket.
The pitch itself is not one that facilitates good cricket, and there is a sense of anticipation for the pitch to become more bowler-friendly over the next two days, as it often does in Galle.