India's pacemen have struggled in the series so far and the tourists have no back-up options, writes Ahmed Rizvi It must have felt a bit like Groundhog Day for India. Sri Lanka win the toss, Tillakaratane Dilshan breezes out of the blocks, Tharanga Paranavitana and Kumar Sangakkara reach three-figures and the bowlers never look like taking a wicket. That was the story of the opening day in Galle. The first day of the second Test has followed a nearly identical script on a lifeless Sinhalese Sports Club wicket. In the first Test, Sri Lanka had lost two wickets for 256 in 68 overs on day one. Yesterday, India had two scalps to show for their 90-over toil as Sri Lanka put 312 on the board.
India's performance on the opening day will, like in Galle, result in their bowling reserves coming under increasing scrutiny. In the absence of Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, the new-ball attack has looked impotent with Ishant Sharma struggling for rhythm and cutting a forlorn and confused figure. Abhimanyu Mithun has been more composed, but never threatening. To be fair, there has been no purchase from the wicket for the duo, but as Allan Donald, the former South Africa pace ace and TV analyst for the game, said, "they showed a lack of imagination".
Donald was expecting Ishant to be the key for India on this wicket - "the bomber of the two sides" to use his exact words - but the paceman was hugely disappointing, digging the ball in too short to give the batsman too many easy runs. Hammered for 79 runs from 14 overs in the first Test in Galle, Ishant conceded 66 runs from 15 overs yesterday, 40 of them in boundaries. His nightmare started early, in the fourth over of the day, when Dilshan smacked him contemptuously for four successive boundaries. He did get the wicket of Paranavitana - a fortuitous inside edge - later in the 72nd over, but the muted celebration told the story.
Angry Indian fans flooded the live commentary board on Cricinfo, questioning the decision to persist with Ishant. But as Gary Kirsten, the India coach, pointed out, there are few options at hand. Munaf Patel and Shanthakumaran Sreesanth are the next cabs off the rank but neither has fared well in recent times. "In the last two years and seven months that I have been with the team, we have tried 15 or 16 seamers in one-day cricket," Kirsten said. "That's a lot of options. We need to settle on the few who can get through. It is a concern that the guys are not saying 'I am here now and now I am going to play international cricket for next five years'."
Kirsten sees potential in Ishant, who made headlines on his arrival at the international stage with Steve Waugh anointing him as the next big star of world cricket. His pace, his stock and his confidence have plummeted since then. In his last 10 Test matches, he has taken 27 wickets at close to 40 runs apiece; in his first 14 games, he had 42 victims. "We need to be patient with Ishant Sharma," Kirsten said during the first Test. "He hasn't had much game time in the last three months. In his last [home] Test in Kolkata, he made a crucial contribution, got two vital wickets against South Africa. We need to be patient with guys who we know have the potential and talent to go forward. Let's give him a bit of a run and see how he goes. He lost a bit of confidence towards the end of the last season and that takes some time to come back."
As Kirsten waits patiently, the ire among fans and commentators is growing. "With an attack like that, India can only wait and hope for the batsmen to make mistakes," said Atul Wassan, a former India pace bowler, as he summed up the day's play on TEN Sports. Unfortunately for India, the Sri Lanka batsmen did not make many. They did not need to. email@example.com