Sri Lanka 80 for 0 (Karunaratne 42*, Madushka 36*) trail Afghanistan 198 (Rahmat 91, Vishwa 4-51, Asitha 3-24, Jayasuriya 3-67) by 118 runs
Sri Lanka won the toss, unusually strapped three seam bowlers to the plow, and even more unusually asked their opposition to bat first at the SSC. By the end of day one, they will feel those decisions – at least partially – have been vindicated. Between them, their senior seam bowlers Vishwa Fernando and Asitha Fernando took seven wickets, as Sri Lanka dismissed Afghanistan for 198. Then, the pitch now seemingly having flattened, their openers sped to 80 for no loss in the 14 overs they faced.
The only Afghanistan player to offer substantial resistance was Rahmat Shah, who in the morning session and just after lunch put on two half-century partnerships, first with debutant Noor Ali Zadran, then captain Hashmatullah Shahidi. He went on to 91, and needed an outstanding piece of anticipation and reflexes from wicketkeeper Sadeera Samarawickrama to dismiss.
But otherwise, an Afghanistan team carrying four debutants made a modest impression on their first day of Test cricket in Sri Lanka. Only one other batter faced as many as 50 balls, and their last eight wickets fell for 89 runs. And though seamer Nijat Masood bowled testing overs, the remainder of their attack – all playing their first Test – did not maintain significant pressure as the day wound to its close.
Of Sri Lanka’s fast bowlers, Asitha was the most persistent through the day, and it was he who claimed the first wicket of the morning, jagging the second ball back into the pads of Ibrahim Zadran to dismiss him for zero. While he delivered a tight new-ball spell, pressure was let off at the other end with Vishwa and Sri Lanka’s own debutant Chamika Gunasekara failing to make the best of the seam movement on offer in the earliest overs on a moist surface. Gunasekara was especially inconsistent in his first four-over spell, occasionally threatening the edge, but spraying the ball too wide too often, to leak 28 runs.
In that first session, thanks largely to Rahmat, it seemed as if Afghanistan could mount a strong total on a surface that had plenty of carry for the seamers, but which seemed more suited to batting once the new ball lost its shine. While Noor attacked Gunasekara early on, Shah made a more even start to his innings, driving well early on, though he did also pick up runs through third man – a productive area for him right through his innings. In between the boundaries, which Rahmat largely hit off short balls, opportunities for singles rarely went untaken.
Rahmat and Noor put on 57 together before a back-of-a-length Vishwa delivery jumped at Noor, and he was caught and bowled off the top edge. Rahmat, however, was no less proficient against the left-arm spin of Prabath Jayasuriya once he came into the attack. As against the quicks, Rahmat was quick to pounce when Jayasuriya pitched too short, hitting him for fours through point and through square leg. Twice before lunch Shah waltzed down the pitch to knock him back over his head for four, a strategy he pursued after the break as well.
He completed his fourth Test fifty off the first ball he faced after lunch, reaching the milestone in 80 deliveries. Though Afghanistan lost two wickets early in the second session – Shahidi caught behind off another shortish Vishwa ball that bounced more than expected, before Nasir Jamal offered no shot to a straight Jayasuriya delivery that hit off stump – Rahmat’s tempo did not waiver.
In the end, it was Jayasuriya who removed him, through the work of wicketkeeper Samarawickrama. Seeing Rahmat stretch forward and crouch low for a paddle sweep, Samarawickrama began to move swiftly to the leg side. Rahmat failed to keep the shot down, and Samarawickrama’s excellent reflexes saw him pouch the low chance in his left glove while on the move.
Either side of tea, Afghanistan fell rapidly, losing their last six wickets for 43 runs. Vishwa bowled his best spell of the day during this period to take two further wickets, before Asitha Fernando came back to wipe out the last two wickets in the space of three balls.
Asitha’s take was 3 for 24 from 14.4 overs. Vishwa’s was 4 for 51 from 12. Jayasuriya took 3 for 67.
The fours started flowing almost as soon as Sri Lanka’s response began, first from the bat of Nishan Madushka as he punished Afghanistan’s poor lengths, before Dimuth Karunaratne joined in the flaying. Masood occasionally created trouble for the outside edge, and bowled some good bouncers to trouble Karunaratne in his last over of the day. But between them Sri Lanka’s openers hit 13 boundaries, taking a particular liking to seamer Mohammad Saleem and spinner Zia-ur-Rehman, who both went at more than a run a ball.