PORT OF SPAIN – West Indies rode their luck through a challenging first day of the first Test against Sri Lanka to reach 246 for six at stumps at the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad on Wednesday.
A 90-run sixth-wicket partnership between captain Jason Holder and wicketkeeper-batsman Shane Dowrich was critical in wresting the initiative from the tourists after they had chosen to bat first in conditions that did not appear particularly taxing.
However the Sri Lankan seamers put in a tremendous effort on a generally placid surface with Lahiru Kumara leading the way in claiming three for 57 off 18 overs, including the important wicket of Holder for 40 just when it seemed the all-rounder was about to accelerate against a tiring attack in a long final session marking the start of the visitors' first-ever three-match Test series in the Caribbean.
Yet Dinesh Chandimal’s team had only themselves to blame for letting the home side off the hook after the tea interval.
Holder only added two runs after being badly missed by Roshen Silva at second slip off Kumara, however the more expensive lapse had occurred earlier when Dowrich, on 16, offered a straightforward chance to Angelo Mathews at slip off Dilruwan Perera’s off-spin and the opportunity was missed.
Relieved to have been granted that reprieve by Sri Lanka's former captain, Dowrich played with exaggerated care thereafter and resumes on the second morning on 46 in partnership with Devendra Bishoo, who batted through the final 40 minutes of the day without getting off the mark.
Earlier, Devon Smith's return to international cricket after more than three years ended in disappointment at the start of the day.
Opening the batting with Kraigg Brathwaite, the 36-year-old left-hander watched his partner depart in just the third over of the match, caught behind off experienced seamer Suranga Lakmal.
Smith, who last represented the regional side against England in his native Grenada in 2015, would have been especially keen to make an impact.
But his ambitions were undone by sharp work from Chandimal whose throw to the wicketkeeper from midwicket found the opener just short of his ground after he was called through for a single by new batsman Kieran Powell.
Powell sought to impose himself in putting on 40 for the third wicket with Shai Hope and looked to be getting on top of the bowlers when Kumara struck his first blow, uprooting the upright left-hander's leg-stump via the inside-edge.
Hope failed to take full advantage of two moments of good fortune, falling to a leg-side wicketkeeper's catch off Kumara for 44. But it was namesake seamer Lahiru Gamage who was left ruing opportunities lost.
On 29 just after the lunch interval, Hope chased a wide delivery and edged a catch to Dickwella only to be reprieved by a no-ball call.
Hope and Roston Chase extended their fourth-wicket partnership to 54 when Kumara’s persistence finally paid off.
As expected, Rangana Herath played a bigger role at the bowling crease in the day's second session and the most successful left-arm spinner in Test history responded with the wicket of Chase for 38 via a sharp catch by Mathews at slip when the batsman edged an attempted cut.
With the innings listing at 147 for five at that stage, the advantage was certainly with the Sri Lankans before the resistance of Dowrich and Holder, combined with the tourists' sloppy outcricket, redressed the balance.