The heat in Galle is like an invisible partner that switches sides from time to time, most often aligning itself with the batting team. So when Bangladesh lost the crucial toss and were asked to field it must have seemed to the Tigers that they were facing two opponents -- a Sri Lankan team that has historically made them chase leather as if for fun and the scorching sun. On top of that, the pitch on which their bowlers were asked to toil was an unresponsive one.
Still, the early signs were good. What seemed like a brave decision to include Subashis Roy in place of left-arm spinner Taijul Islam was increasingly looking like a wise one as the three seamers -- Taskin Ahmed, Mustafizur Rahman and Subashis -- bowled the lion's share of the overs before lunch and all three looked threatening.
In the first session the pitch seemed to be a little two-paced, with some balls flying through after pitching on a good length. The pacers exploited that and stuck to a good length outside off stump, which dried up the runs, especially after the early dismissal of Upul Tharanga, whose stumps were rattled by the fourth ball of Subashis's first over when the right-arm paceman came on as first change.
When off-spinner Mehedi Hasan Miraz struck to remove Dimuth Karunaratne with barely five minutes to lunch, it was Bangladesh's session. Until an hour after the break, culminating in the strangling of Dinesh Chandimal through a sharp catch at gully by Miraz off Mustafizur for a tortuous 54-ball five, Bangladesh were on the ascendancy.
Credit must go to skipper Mushfiqur Rahim. For most parts of the first hour of the second session there was one and at most two fielders on the fence. Only when Kusal Mendis neared a composed half-century did Mushfiqur add more fielders on the fence, but was quick to bring them in when Chandimal was facing. The bowlers repaid that faith in full by buying into the plan and sticking to an off-stump line.
But then the heat got to them. Near the end of the afternoon session, Subashis being dispatched for two consecutive boundaries by Mendis to opposite ends of the ground signalled a breakdown in discipline. That aberration before tea became the pattern after the break as the weary Tigers stared down the barrel of a two-and-a-half-hour session necessitated by a terribly slow over rate. Although he bowled well, Taskin was especially guilty, often taking well in excess of five minutes to complete an over.
As well as the bowling, the thinking got muddled under the late afternoon sun. Even though the pitch slowed down considerably after the first session and short balls were routinely dismissed for boundaries, Taskin started the session with two fielders on the fence behind square leg. While that pointed to the bouncer trap, Taskin barely bowled a bouncer.
The nadir of the evening session came in the 75th and 77th overs bowled by Miraz. Off the last ball of the 75th, Asela Gunaratne knocked the ball to long on and Mahmudullah Riyad collected the ball before unleashing a throw at the non-striker's end. The ball missed the mark and neither the bowler, wicketkeeper or first slip were backing up and four overthrows resulted, bringing up the 150-run fourth-wicket partnership. In Miraz's next over, the same thing happened and Gunaratne was eight runs richer.
Taskin broke the partnership late in the day but despite talk of Bangladesh's progress at Test level, the end of day score of 321 for four is similar to Sri Lanka's average first-day score -- 328 for six -- when they have batted first against the Tigers.
It remains to be seen whether a night's rest can rejuvenate the Tigers into replicating their morning performance on the second day, and if they cope better with the heat with bat in hand.