Karunaratne ton steers Sri Lanka

223853An unbeaten century from Dimuth Karunaratne ensured Sri Lanka negotiated the opening day of the series with a sense of calm and lost only two wickets on a slow Galle pitch. Sri Lanka grew increasingly dominant as the day progressed. The final session produced over 43% of the runs they scored on the day, and ended with a punchy Karunaratne straight drive that took the score from 246 to 250.

West Indies did themselves no good by dropping two catches in the middle session. The first spill didn’t cost them – Lahiru Thirimanne, the reprieved batsman, was disimissed soon after – but the other – a backtracking Jerome Taylor failing to grasp Dinesh Chandimal at mid-on when he miscued an attempted pull off Devendra Bishoo – certainly did. Chandimal, who was on 11 at that point, went on to end the day unbeaten on 72, having added 149 with Karunaratne.

Karunaratne’s innings was a triumph of restraint and adherence to a simple plan. In the morning session, he left resolutely when the ball was angled across him, and didn’t get lured into indiscretion outside off even when the quicks went around the wicket. He read the lengths well, picking up most of his runs with checked drives through cover – he rarely went hard at the ball while playing this stroke, mindful of the slowness of the pitch – and glides and cuts behind point. Against the legspinner Bishoo, he used his feet well, coming down the track to either whip him with the turn or to get close enough to the pitch of the ball to smother any potential misbehaviour out of the rough.

In the first two sessions, accurate bowling and a slow pitch ensured Sri Lanka never ran too far ahead of their opponents. But they took control in the period immediately after tea, when West Indies began proceedings with Bishoo and Marlon Samuels and kept them going in tandem for 16 overs. It was a strange tactic, given that West Indies’ attack contained four frontline quicks – it was, perhaps, an admission that they had got the selection wrong – and those 16 overs went for 53 runs – the run rate of 3.31 comfortably above the rate of 2.56 that Sri Lanka had scored at until tea.

Both batsmen milked the spinners, using their feet comfortably to get down the track, hit a six each over cow corner – Karunaratne reached his hundred in that manner – and grew increasingly entrenched. It wasn’t until West Indies took the second new ball that Chandimal faced Roach or Taylor – West Indies’ two most experienced bowlers, and their biggest threats on the day. By that time, he had moved to 54 off 120 balls.

The new ball did a bit, but not so much as to trouble a two well-set batsmen, and Sri Lanka saw out the last 10 overs of the day without too much discomfort. The one dicey moment they endured was a result of uncertain calling when Karunaratne tucked Taylor into the leg side. Jermaine Blackwood reacted quickly to the mix-up at short midwicket, but his underarm flick missed the stumps at the bowler’s end with Karunaratne a long way short of the crease.

In the morning session, Taylor and Roach asked questions of the openers, but they survived their new-ball spells without too much alarm. Both bowlers beat Silva’s edge, but he played close to his body and didn’t follow Taylor’s swing or Roach’s seam movement with his hands.

The runs came slowly, but the initial nerves seemed to calm against Jason Holder and Shannon Gabriel, who didn’t move the ball as much as the new-ball pair. Gabriel offered a few loose balls – including a full-toss that Silva square-drove for his first boundary, off his 44th ball – but bowled with pace and pinged Silva on the helmet when a bouncer didn’t rise as much as expected.

The 50 partnership – the first for a Sri Lanka opening pair since Karunaratne and Silva put on 85 in Christchurch back in December 2014 – came up in the 16th over, and West Indies were looking just a touch short on inspiration and just a touch flustered by the number of quick singles they were conceding. But they didn’t have to wait too long for the wicket, which came when Roach came back on for his second spell.

All through his first, he had troubled Silva by going wide of the crease and straightening the ball past his outside edge. Now he repeated the same line of attack, and Silva, now well set, was good enough to nick him.

Thirimanne’s 62-ball stay was a struggle all through, characterised by an utter inability to find the gaps. He survived a couple of close shaves too. First, soon after lunch, he shouldered arms to a ball from Holder that snaked in sharply from around the wicket and narrowly missed his off stump. Then he aimed an ill-advised drive at a good-length ball from Taylor and nicked to slip, where Darren Bravo got both hands to the ball but failed to hold on.

But having got past those alarms, and having experienced a small release of pressure following Bishoo’s introduction – he picked up two doubles, a single and a boundary off the first five balls he faced from the legspinner as he searched for rhythm – Thirimanne threw his wicket away. Looking to boss Bishoo, he ran down the track and went hard at the ball, looking perhaps to hit over mid-on. Extra turn, though, caused him to hit the ball to short midwicket off the inside half of his bat. (Courtesy Cricinfo)


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