End Of 22-Year-Old Drought In Sri Lanka India Taste Test Series Triumph
India’s victory did not come easily over Sri Lanka, it was built on guts, patience flexibility, which reaped the benefits
Hours of planning for outside edges and lbws, scuffle bowlers again and again, try to bowl speed bouncers, sweating, despairing, debate over DRS and no-balls, hoping for a miracle catches at last the Test turned on a lackadaisical reverse-sweep! Coming together at five down with 78 over to survive, captain Angelo Mathews’ and debutant Kushal Perera’s partnership gave Sri Lanka an outside chance of an improbable win. At the time when Thisara played a reverse-sweep, Sri Lanka were just 144 run away from the victory.
India’s dying spirit, reminded of Johannesburg, Wellington and Galle over the last 20 months, found just the resuscitation team needed. The series win marks the end of a number of unwanted streaks. It is India’s first victory in Sri Lanka after 22 years. It is India’s first away series win since 2011. It is the first time India won two Tests in a series since 2004 and only the fifth time that they have done so in their history. It is also the first time ever that India came back to win an away series after losing the first Test.
Energetic young Virat Kohli’s voices calling out in cricket’s global lingo on cruel afternoon really worked. “Come on, lads…” “One more wicket, boys, one more wicket…” Every fielder clapped hoping something to happen. Was that Stuart Binny? Or wicketkeeper Naman Ojha? Or Ajinkya Rahane? Ishant Sharma, the much maligned speed star of India was back to track with a major milestone in his career. He claimed his 200th Test wicket by sending valiant Angelo Mathews back to the pavilion.
The most impressive statistic of this series might well be that India used four different openers over three Tests and none of them managed a 50-run partnership. Overall, five different batsmen made centuries over six innings, including Cheteshwar Pujara, who carried his bat in his first Test innings for eight months, even as all those around him were losing their wickets. It was an old fashioned innings that relied on patience, technique and a little luck. It was also the result of injury. Had Murali Vijay or Shikhar Dhawan been fit, Pujara would not have played.
Most teams would have taken a step back in the face of a situation where neither their first-choice openers, nor a replacement opener was available. Yet Pujara, batting on the top two for only the fifth time in his Test career, grafted his way to an unbeaten 145. It set up a first series win in Sri Lanka after 22 years. Similarly, Ajinkya Rahane made a series-turning century in the second innings of the second Test, after being promoted unexpectedly (for those watching, at least) to No. 3 in the batting order.
When faced with unfamiliar situations, the players chose to rise to the challenge rather than question their fate. “[We] looked at it as an opportunity rather than a difficulty,” Kohli said at a press conference after the victory. “That’s why we are able to play the kind of cricket that we want to.”
The five-bowler theory paid off, with India taking all 60 Sri Lanka wickets over six innings. And while there wasn’t the same chopping and changing with the bowlers, the load was similarly shared. R Ashwin led the wickets column with 21, but Amit Mishra had a better average and strike rate for the series.
The bowlers also showed rare patience as a group in the second and third Tests, especially when faced with Mathews’ implacable aura and broad bat. They didn’t grew restless and tried too many things. They just kept plugging away with their plans, trusting that sooner or later, the game would go their way. Eventually, they breached Mathews’ defences and marched to victory.
India could have withered away after that collapse in Galle. An inexperienced captain and an inexperienced team could easily have turned inward and found themselves caught up in what might have been, rather than what could still be. But Kohli is a relentlessly positive person and that character trait seems to be seeping into the team as a group.
“The way we lost in Galle was because we played bad cricket in two sessions,” Kohli said. “There were lots of positives to take from the match and we focused on that.”
2-1 victory over Sri Lanka might also mark the beginning of something a resilient and adaptable India team that find a way to win. The home series against South Africa in October will test that assertion.
By Sanjay K Bissoyi