A blistering century from Kusal Mendis and 85 from Asela Gunaratne enabled the hosts to pile up 321 for 4 after 88 overs in the first Test against Bangladesh at the Galle International Stadium today.
Kusal Mendis was batting on 166 and Niroshan Dickwella on 14 when the players left the field. The fourth wicket partnership between Kusal and Asela Gunaratne of 196 runs changed the tempo of the match with positive batting and kept the Bangladesh bowlers at bay.
For Bangladesh, Mustafizur Rahman, Taskin Ahmed, Subashis Roy and Mehedi Hasan Miraz took a wicket each.
Earlier, Kusal Mendis hit a polished unbeaten 80 as Sri Lanka reached 155 for three at tea.
After the morning session was dominated by Bangladesh’s bowlers, some quick runs near the end of the second session brought Sri Lanka back into the match as they managed to score 82 runs for the loss of one wicket in 29 overs.
Much of the good work done in the first session by the bowlers was continued in the second. Credit must go to skipper Mushfiqru Rahim, who realised that this was not a pitch on which the batsmen could plunder runs at will and set fields to cut off the singles and pile pressure on the Sri Lankan batsmen. The bowlers repaid that faith in full by buying into the plan and sticking to an off-stump line.
For most parts of the first hour of the second session there was one and at most two fielders on the fence -- the sweeper on the leg side for the spinners and a fine leg for the pacer. 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 Dinesh Chandimal was facing.
Only 29 runs were scored in 15.4 overs after lunch and Mustafizur was operating around the wicket with a slip, a gully, a short cover, a cover and a close mid off. He was getting just a little shape away from the batsman.
At that point Chandimal, perhaps feeling choked by the field and with only five runs off 53 deliveries, looked for the release valve as a sucker delivery, bowled full and wide caught the edge of the flashing blade for Mustafizur’s good friend Mehedi to take a sharp, leaping overhead catch at gully and Sri Lanka were three down for 92 runs.
But thereafter, Asela Gunaratne and Mendis consolidated, with the latter hitting a brace of boundaries off Subhashis Roy -- one cut past point and the next on-driven in front of midwicket. He reached tea unbeaten on 80 off 135 balls. He scored 33 runs off his last 35 balls -- positively electric considering the pace of scoring. A lot will depend on whether Bangladesh can continue exerting the pressure in the last session.
Earlier, Bangladesh’s bowlers gave a good account of themselves in the scorching sunshine of Galle, extracting two wickets -- those of openers Upul Tharanga and Dimuth Karunaratne -- in the first session. Sri Lanka reached 61 for two in 24 overs, which was one wicket too many after the hosts won an important toss.
The remarkable thing about the session of play was that, not only was the lion’s share of bowling done by the seamers, the faster men bowled to a quality that did not make it seem that spinners were needed. Off-spinner Mehedi was brought on with less than half an hour to go for the lunch break.
It was an admirable bowling effort from Mustafizur Rahman, Taskin Ahmed and Subhashis as they discovered the ideal line and length early and stuck to it, keeping the Sri Lankan batsmen on a tight leash after the home side won a good toss.
Mustafizur opened the bowling from the Fort End, with Taskin Ahmed sharing the new ball from the Galle Cricket Club End. With minimal grass on the wicket, which wore a bleached look under the beating sun, it seemed a wicket to keep the ball full on as some deliveries were taking off at good pace from a good length.
Although the pacers generally bowled on a full length, there was only one driven boundary when an over-pitched ball from Mustafizur was punched through covers by Tharanga.
Taskin in particular caused trouble, allying his pace with an incisive length, even during a short two-over opening spell. He was replaced by Subhashis, and it proved to be an inspired call from Mushfiqur Rahim from his unfamiliar position at mid off.
Perhaps the only contentious selection in this Test for Bangladesh, Subhasish seemed to be a surprise for Upul Tharanga too. A short ambling run-up does belie the pace he can generate and after a few gentle-paced deliveries, an effort ball skidded off the surface and beat Tharanga’s hurried defence and clattered into the top of off and middle to leave Sri Lanka at 15 for one in the fifth over.
New batsman Kusal Mendis bottom-edged to wicketkeeper Liton Das off the very next ball, but in his effort to replicate the effort delivery Subhashis overstepped and Mendis was reinstated after umpire Aleem Dar went upstairs to check.
Then followed a battle of wills between Sri Lanka’s second-wicket pair and Bangladesh’s seamers as they added 45 runs in 16.5 overs. Taskin, recalled just before drinks was again on song and bowled four more overs from the Fort End for just six runs.
Mehedi got a few to turn slightly and continued the stranglehold on Karunaratne and Mendis. Equipped with a deceptive arm-ball, one of Mehedi’s main threats is having the batsman playing for the turn and deceiving him with one going on with the arm. That is what happened when Karunaratne, after battling for 75 balls for his 30, tried to break the shackles with a cut to a ball outside off stump, but the offering from Mehedi did not spin as much and crashed into the stumps through an inside edge.
That wicket ensured that Bangladesh will take their mid-day meal with their noses slightly in front after an attritional session.