Kraigg Brathwaite saw out an outstanding Suranga Lakmal spell in the morning, watched top-order colleagues play more adventurous innings, and struck up productive late partnerships with the lower-middle order men, as he provided the backbone to West Indies innings on day one, making 99 not out of 239 balls.
West Indies were 15 for 2 inside the first half-hour after John Campbell and Nkrumah Bonner succumbed to Lakmal, then later, were 120 for 4, and 222 for 7, often in danger of failing to make 300 on a track that held no serious terrors. But through each of these mini-crises, Brathwaite found partners who helped dig West Indies out of their rut, usually with much more aggression than Brathwaite himself mustered.
He posted a 71-run stand with Kyle Mayers, who hit a chancy 49. He was involved in a 51-run partnership with Jason Holder, who made a quick 30. Then, late in the day, Rahkeem Cornwall joined Brathwaite for what became the as-yet-unbeaten 65-run association that propelled West Indies toward 300. Cornwall even helped Brathwaite see out six overs of the second new ball, as Cornwall struck 43 not out off 54 balls, surviving a very close lbw appeal – and subsequent review – off the last ball of the day. West Indies went to stumps at a respectable 287 for 7.
Sri Lanka may have hoped to have West Indies bowled out by stumps, having put them in to bat. But perhaps, given the nature of the surface, they won’t be particularly disheartened either. Provided they take the remaining West Indies wickets early on day two, they may be afforded good batting conditions as well, with the track taking negligible spin so far. Right through day one, Lakmal seemed the likeliest of Sri Lanka’s bowlers to deliver wickets, and with no surprise, he returned with 3 for 71, while his bowling compatriots – Vishwa Fernando, Dushmantha Chameera, Lasith Embuldeniya and Dhananjaya de Silva – only took one apiece.
From the first over, Brathwaite had the look of a batsman who wanted to last the day. It was only on the 18th delivery that he scored his first runs, and once he had a taste for straight boundaries, he made sure to punish them when he could. His favoured scoring area, however, was through midwicket, particularly against the left-arm spin of Embuldeniya. He hit 11 fours through the day.
Brathwaite was a recipient of Sri Lanka’s fielding largesse, however, as the visitors dropped three clear-cut chances. The Brathwaite chance – on 37 and playing a rare loose drive against Vishwa – was perhaps the most difficult of the three as Oshada Fernando at third slip leapt to his left and could not quite clinch it.
Earlier, a chance had gone down off Lakmal, who had Mayers edging to third slip on 12, only for a diving Pathum Nissanka to fail while grasping at it. Lasith Embuldeniya also dropped Alzarri Joseph – again off Vishwa – at fine leg, but made quick amends by dismissing Joseph lbw the next over.
Mayers and Cornwall played West Indies’ other consequential innings in similar fashion, though strangely Cornwall’s was the higher-quality innings. Mayers’ 49 off 61 was full of edges: through the cordon, short of the cordon, past his own stumps. He survived the first session, but barely, and was out in the first over of the afternoon.
Cornwall, meanwhile, had time to settle in against the much older ball. Although he was tested by reverse swing, he kept out the balls that were headed to his stumps, and punished those that were in his arc, crashing Embuldeniya through cover to collect the first of his six fours, then later hitting boundaries through midwicket, point, and back down the ground, as the mood struck. When Chameera attempted to bounce him with the old ball, Cornwall hooked him for six.
Sri Lanka’s bowlers might reflect that they were over-reliant on Lakmal for breakthroughs on day one, but Lakmal bowled an exemplary spell first up to set the visitors on their way. He set Campbell up with a series of inswingers then had him nick off to a ball that held its line before Bonner played on to his own stumps the over after. At this stage of the day, Lakmal was yet to concede a run. His third wicket – that of Blackwood who was also caught behind – came in his third wicket maiden of the innings.
Although the quicks performed creditably, Embuldeniya had an off day. In the morning session he tried hard to get a wicket and was swiftly put away when he erred. But even later in the day, with the pitch not offering much in the way of assistance, Embuldeniya failed to settle into a rhythm and was penalized on five occasions by the third umpire for overstepping his mark as he finished with 1 for 79 from his 21 overs.