Mushfiqur played proper Test cricket. He survived for a long time and then hit a boundary. Of course there is a lot to learn from him,” Soumya Sarkar, had said, following the Bangladesh’s first-innings effort that saw them concede a 182-run lead despite some gritty knocks.
By the time bad light forced early stumps on Day 4 of the first Test at Galle, Sarkar had put those lessons into action, but in his own unique way. His quick-fire, unbeaten 53 off 47 deliveries helped Bangladesh to 67 for 0 after Sri Lanka set the visitors a huge target of 457 on Friday (March 10).
Upul Tharanga’s well-paced 115 off 171 balls helped Sri Lanka extend their advantage, but there were also a few raised eyebrows as the hosts had delayed the declaration well after Tea, waiting until Dinesh Chandimal scored his first fifty in nine innings, before declaring their second innings at 274 for 6.
But Sarkar’s innings would have justified the home team’s cautious approach as the Bangladesh opener, untroubled for a major part of his stay on Day 4, helped the visitors offer a strong reply to the challenge posed by the hosts.
The determination was writ large on Sarkar’s face and in his partner Tamim Iqbal as well, as they negotiated a tricky final session’s play. Sri Lanka bowled as many as 15 overs in their attempt to separate the opening pair. But the Bangladesh openers were up to the task and didn’t budge, with Tamim’s second-fiddle act complementing Sarkar’s gutsy knock.
Although it wasn’t a chanceless innings from Sarkar, who got a couple of edges that landed just short of the slip fielders, it would have given Bangladesh a lot of confidence after they were made to work hard by a defiant Tharanga and had spent most part of the day fielding with the sun beating down hard.
In the first session, Tharanga and Dimuth Karunaratne were happy to trudge along, scoring at just over two an over on a pitch that was on the slower side. Disciplined bowling, coupled with cautious batting, meant that boundaries were few and far in between for Sri Lanka. While Mehedi Hasan was unlucky despite bowling a good spell at the start of the second innings, Karunaratne, who was the the receiving end of the close shaves, assisted Tharanga in building a partnership.
They added 69 runs – the first half-century stand for Sri Lanka for the opening wicket in 2017 – before Karunaratne’s stay came to an end when he failed to keep a pull down. Tharanga and Kusal Mendis then dug in, not attempting anything fancy, and their slow going meant that the hosts could manage only five boundaries in the entire session.
Tharanga, who was unbeaten on 40 off 94 at the lunch break, made up for his watchful approach as he unleashed a volley of boundaries to help Sri Lanka make steady progress in the second session.
While Mendis was living dangerously, Sri Lanka managed to press on thanks to Tharanga, who took the attack to the Bangladesh bowlers after crossing fifty. Bearing the brunt of the attack was Mustafizur, whose second spell yielded 22 runs after he had conceded only one run off his first five overs before Lunch, including four maidens in a row.
There were threatening clouds hovering over the ground and the message for clear for the batsmen – to accelerate – following the slow opening session which yielded 87 runs at a scoring rate of 2.64. While Tharanga continued to find the ropes regularly, Mendis departed while attempting to do the same, failing to clear deep mid-wicket off Shakib Al Hasan, having earlier managed a maximum in the same region.
Things slowed down a touch for Sri Lanka with Tharanga approaching the three-figure mark as they went without a boundary for more than seven overs while Chandimal was also put down by Sarkar at first slip off Mehedi. Tharanga though made his intentions clear soon after, bringing up his third hundred in Tests, sending a Shakib delivery sailing over the long-on fence before scoring two back-to-back fours off Hasan. However, Tharanga attempted one shot too many and was bowled by Mehedi after missing a slog-sweep, ending the third-wicket association worth 64 runs.
Asela Gunaratne followed soon after, cleaned up by Shakib for a duck, while Niroshan Dickwella too fell after Sri Lanka extended their lead past 400. There were no signs of the declaration yet, and disregarding conventional expectation that they would come out to bowl after Tea – having scored 160 runs at 5.16 in the session – Sri Lanka sent out Chandimal and Dilruwan Perera to the middle again.
Following a brisk 52-run stand, which came to an end when Perera fell to Mustafizur, Sri Lanka eventually chose to end their innings, resurrecting an old debate about erring on the side of caution.
Brief scores: Sri Lanka 494 & 274/6 decl. (Upul Tharanga 115, Dinesh Chandimal 50*; Mehedi Hasan 2-77) lead Bangladesh 312 & 67/0 (Soumya Sarkar 53*) by 389 runs.