With Galle pitch as his ally, diffident-no-more Permaul stomps all over Sri Lanka

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Bowling his eighth delivery of the second day, Veerasammy Permaul comes around the wicket to the right-handed Pathum Nissanka. Oshada Fernando had been out just before, but Nissanka is set, on 73, and Sri Lanka have plenty of batting to come. It could be a slow morning. It could be a slow Tuesday.

Permaul’s first over of the day, bowled exclusively to Angelo Mathews, had largely been populated by darters – balls that kept Mathews pinned to the crease, but were unlikely to bring a dismissal. Maybe Permaul was nervous. This was his first Test in more than six years, and on day one, Nissanka had hit him for six early in his five-over spell. This is Galle, on whose bone-dry dust spinners are expected to be magic. But in his first foray to the bowling crease, Permaul had barely created a chance.

But this ball, delivered with a little underspin, misses the seam as it pitches, and shimmies into Nissanka’s front pad – the batter having expected the ball to turn. And wow! It’s plumb. Nissanka doesn’t bother with a review. Permaul hasn’t played Tests since going for runs against Australia in August 2015, so this is his first Test wicket in six years. But he doesn’t celebrate like a dam has burst.

Something does give way, though. Sri Lanka had been 106 for 0, then 139 for 1. Nissanka played a chancy, but brave, innings for his 73. Now, there are two new men at the crease, on a track that is famously unkind to new batters. Perhaps it’s the confidence of that first wicket, but two balls later, Permaul slows one up outside off stump, gets it to bite, and draws a mistake – Dhananjaya de Silva following the ball with his hands, to give an edge to the wicketkeeper.

Next over, suddenly, Permaul is floating everything up. He dares debutant Charith Asalanka to try something fancy, like the reverse sweep for four he had played to get his first Test runs. Asalanka refuses to be tempted, but on a Galle track such as this, you don’t always have to make a mistake against the spinners to be dismissed. Last ball of that over, Asalanka pushes out at one, and the surface does its thing. There’s a puff of dust as the ball pitches, and there is drastic turn. The inside edge hits the pad and pops up to short leg. In Permaul’s last match, in Kingston, way back, he’d conceded 207 runs and taken only two wickets. Here, he’s got three in the space of 11 balls.

Now there’s some hollering. Some vigour in that celebration. He’s not a fringe player battling to justify selection and keep his place in the team. He’s a lead spinner turning a match, yanking his side into the series. At the other end, Jomel Warrican is ripping it up too – more body into his action than has been seen through much of the series.

Late on day one, when Nissanka and Dimuth Karunaratne were putting on their 100-run stand, Sri Lanka seemed headed for another 300-plus total. Yet, midway through the first session on day two, West Indies’ spinners are making it seem like there are landmines just under the surface. Warrican gets a couple in quick succession – Dinesh Chandimal trapped in front with one that dips under the batter’s sweep, before a hard-spun full delivery takes Ramesh Mendis’ leading edge and floats out to cover.

Where once Permaul ambled to the crease, he is stomping to his mark now. The batters are fearful of the surface, but Permaul is suddenly bowling so well, he doesn’t need the track’s help – he’s beating his opponents in the air. Suranga Lakmal is early through a hoick to the leg side, and the edge floats directly to point, the fielder not having to move, as if he and the ball were keeping an appointment. Lasith Embuldeniya tries to play Permaul to the off side, but is defeated completely in the flight. He’s bowled. Permaul has the first five-wicket haul of his career, and is jubilant. When Warrican wraps up the innings with a superbly flighting, dipping, turning ball that tickles the top of Mathews’ stumps, the broadcast cameras sprint on the field and veer off towards deep midwicket; that’s where Permaul is.

There was nothing extraordinary in Permaul’s bowling on Tuesday. He used largely two variations – the one that spun, and the one that didn’t, the latter delivered with a little underspin. But when Galle’s surface gave him something, he shot up by two feet, and as much as such a thing is possible for a slow left armer, grew a barrel chest.

Over the past six years, in which he only had sporadic opportunities in the white-ball teams, Permaul must have had his share of frustrations. But although this was Sri Lankan soil he was bowling on, not Guyanese, and the Indian Ocean glittered from the distance, not the Atlantic, if you’re a spinner, and you’re willing to be brave, playing at Galle can be a little like coming home.



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