Underdogs confound expectations

He may not smile like Pygocentrus nattereri, or scent blood, or sink his teeth into a bowling attack.

But Tharanga “Piranha” Paranavitana batted through a truncated first day of play in the First Test at Cardiff today to show that Sri Lanka are very far from the pushovers everyone expected them to be.

While opinion swam between “clear underdog” due to an inexperienced attack and “perhaps a slightly tougher opposition than first assumed” after the win when following on at Derby, it seems the consensus of most seasoned observers seemed to founder on the shoals of “a side that is expected to struggle” as the Sri Lankan seamer injury count escalated.

Granted, this was only the first day – and a short day at that, given that play eventually started at 3:30 due to persistent showers – but the fact that the visitors went to stumps on 133-2 may cause those who doubted them to re-evaluate their opinion.

Though really, why anyone would write off a team containing Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and newly-anointed captain Tillakaratne Dilshan seems to me as foolish as it is illogical, and the cricketing gods have punished better teams than England for such brazen hubris, though to be fair Strauss has paid the opposition all due respect in the lead-up to this match.

Granted, there is no mistaking the fact Sri Lanka have a long tail. Of the two men at the crease, Paranavitana and Mahela Jayawardene, only one of those has to fall for the Lankans’ prospects to look distinctly less rosy.

But this is the side that was blown away in their first innings at Derby, followed on and then bowled the England Lions out to win by 38 runs. The moral of this story could be: don’t put Sri Lanka in a hopeless situation. It only makes them angry. Already their dander will be up after Kumar Sangakkara was contentiously given out caught behind on review when arguably the evidence proved hardly overwhelming enough to justify it.

Paranavitana will resume tomorrow on 58, scored off 154 balls – a predator more than willing to wait and let the prey come to him than to squander his wicket for the sake of rash pyrotechnics. He has already amassed two centuries on this tour, and judging by the chat on Twitter today, a whole new host of fans.

Everything could yet go pear-shaped, but Sri Lanka can feel pretty pleased with their performance today.

I like it when reality confounds expectation.

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