Sangakkara ton highlights Srilanka’s day

It was all one-way traffic on the opening day in Galle as Sri Lanka’s batsmen, with varying levels of experience, set the platform for a massive score and never allowed the initiative to slip.Kumar Sangakkara had been out of action since injuring his finger in the Melbourne Test in December. The lack of match practice over the last three months – he was forced to pull out of the tour game in Matara due to the contracts crisis – didn’t matter as he eased back into Test match action with a positive century, getting to the landmark inside two sessions.
Tillakaratne Dilshan’s attacking fifty had eased the pressure not just on Sangakkara but also the inexperienced middle order, which was missing two stalwarts ahead of this series.
One of the newer players to benefit from the pressure-free scenario was Lahiru Thirimanne, who remained unbeaten on a steady 74.
It was a deflating day for the Bangladesh bowlers, with the exception of the offspinner Sohag Gazi, who took all three wickets. He didn’t have adequate support from the other end and from day one, Bangladesh were left to regret the absence of Shakib Al Hasan, missing the series due to injury.
Aside from the lack of wickets, what hurt the visitors more was the inability to check the scoring. An innings run-rate of close to four and a half after two sessions was intimidating enough for the bowlers.
At the toss, neither captain fancied bowling first. Mathews wanted his new-look batting order to make first use of the pitch before it started to get slower and lower.
Dilshan maintained a healthy strike-rate of close to run-a-ball, scoring 36 runs off boundaries alone, but not all came off the middle of the bat. In between a few edgy boundaries were crisply driven fours through cover, a sweep and an effortless drive past mid-on that brought up his fifty.
Bangladesh turned to spin from both ends from the 13th over, but there wasn’t much purchase for them straightaway. Dilshan was intent on using his feet to disturb their rhythm and Bangladesh to their credit took the first real opportunity that came their way. Gazi tossed it up wider, Dilshan came down the pitch and spooned it to mid-off off the toe of the bat.
Sangakkara walked in when Karunaratne was forced to retire after hurting his arm when trying to pull a short ball. It took Sangakkara just one ball to find his rhythm as he slashed a wide delivery past point for four.
He was strong against the spinners, rocking back and cutting when they dropped it short and wide, and it was a pattern through his innings. He survived a stumping chance when he was beaten in flight and bounce off Gazi, managing to drag his back foot back just in time.
He was luckier to survive a close shout for lbw off Gazi on 38 and replays showed the ball striking him in front of middle stump. In the absence of DRS, Bangladesh had to accept the umpire’s call and move on.
Shahadat Hossain attempted the bouncer, but the lack of pace on the pitch enabled Sangakkara and the returning Karunaratne to stay back and pull.
Gazi’s drift into the left-handers from round the wicket kept the batsmen in check, but when he dropped short or too wide, he was punished through the off side. Two such cuts past point brought up two milestones for Sangakkara – his fifty and took him past Sunil Gavaskar’s tally of 10,122 runs.
There was temporary relief for Bangladesh when Karunaratne was trapped lbw on the back foot to Gazi, who was rewarded for his drift. Sangakkara’s was the wicket they needed, though.
Thirimanne had the benefit of a set batsman at the other end, and after a watchful start – he scored only 4 from his first 25 balls – took on the spinners. Sangakkara smacked a six and a four off the part-timer Mohammad Ashraful, and then reached his 31st Test century with a clip wide of midwicket.
There was no letting up after tea. If it was tossed up, Sangakkara was down the pitch to loft; if it was banged in short – not recommended on this surface – it was clubbed over midwicket. A sloppy effort by Ashraful at mid-on – he mistimed his jump – gave Sangakkara another life, on 111.
Ironically, it was a sound reflex catch at cover that ended his innings. Gazi bowled it wide and Sangakkara tried clearing the off side but Jahurul Islam jumped, fumbled and managed to turn around and take it on the second attempt. The drop cost Bangladesh 31 runs, but the damage had already been done.
Thirimanne matched Sangakkara shot for shot particularly through the off side against the spinners. The cover drive in particular stood out for its poise and follow-through. Mathews found his timing against the seamers when the second new ball was taken.
None of the seamers managed any movement, despite the persistent cloud cover. The heavens opened with less than five overs left, but Bangladesh, after a draining day in the field, would have been relieved to pack it in early.

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