Virat Kohli‘s men staged a monumental comeback after the Galle gaffe and won the final two Test matches and with it the series by 1-2, thereby registering India’s first Test series win in Srilanka since 1993.
It was a much-needed victory for this young Indian side that had not won a Test series, at home or away from home, for over 18 months, with their last series win coming against West Indies (2-0) in 2013, at home—one that will be remembered as Sachin Tendulkar’s swansong after a prolific, 24-year international cricket career.
India can be proud of what they have achieved, though Srilanka are in a rebuilding process too, and were nowhere near the kind of side we have seen them put out over the years. Kumar Sangakkara’s retirement might have been a distraction for the home side but, with and without the elegant southpaw, the hosts’ batting line-up lacked solidity and their bowling attack too, never came up with a collective showing over the three Tests.
India, on the other hand, won the crucial moments—barring one, at Galle, where Dinesh Chandimal played a scintillating knock of 162* that proved to be a match-winning effort—during the three Tests, eventually helping them edge Srilanka to win the series.
There were positives to come out of this tour for India, who also have many areas to work on before South Africa come to India for a 72-day long tour comprising of three Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is), five One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and four Tests, to be played in that sequence.
But what are the conclusions from India’s first Test series win in Srilanka since 1993? Which players made the difference in India triumphing over the Lankan lions? How did Kohli fare as a captain? Answers and much, much more to follow…
India’s First Test Series Win in Srilanka Since 1993
One of the reasons why India haven’t been a great Test side over the years, has been their bowlers’ ineptitude to pick 20 wickets more often than not, especially away from home. There have been numerous Test matches in the last four years, that have seen India get themselves into very good positions but then fail to harness them: in the Lord’s Test against England, in 2011, they had the home side reeling at 5-62 in the second innings, with Ishant Sharma bowling one of the better spells of his career; the pitch had enough in it for India to continue plugging away, bowl the Poms out for maybe under 150 and get themselves back into the game, but it proved to be a missed opportunity in the end.
Likewise, when touring New Zealand early last year, Brendon McCullum’s side were in serious disarray in the second innings of the second Test at the Basin Reserve in Wellington: trailing India by 246 at the start of their second innings, their position in the Test match worsened further when the Indian bowlers, led by Zaheer Khan, reduced them to 5-94 and only had to get past McCullum, who, however, was having the time of his life with the bat at the time, and BJ Watling to brighten India’s chances of leveling the two-Test series they eventually lost 1-0.
From India’s perspective, this Test series, therefore, will be remembered for the potency shown by the Indian bowlers, who bowled Srilanka out in each of the six innings. As aforementioned, Chandimal’s grandiose knock in the second innings of the Galle Test, saw history repeat itself for India, for whom it was by no means an unusual experience.
But thereafter, in the Tests played at the P Sara Oval and Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC), the Indian bowlers worked in unison and made sure the home side didn’t escape from their clutches: you don’t have to look any further than Srilanka’s second innings of the third and final Test, which, for a while on the 5th day, felt as though India may not have the cutting edge, once again, to get past the resolute Srilankan skipper and the audacious Kusal Perera, and thereby, not go on to win the series. However, thanks to Ishant’s new found rhythm and immaculate consistency in lines and lengths, India managed to pass their final, and possibly the most significant too, test to win the series.
Ravichandran Ashwin with 21 wickets and Amit Mishra with 15 wickets, were the two leading wicket-takers in the series, which saw Ishant finish with 13 scalps. And this triumvirate’s good bowling form does stand India in good stead ahead of the home Test series against AB de Villiers’ side in a couple of months’ time.
While India bowled well as a unit throughout the series, Kohli’s experiment to bring about the culture of playing five specialist bowlers in Tests, didn’t last long. India went into the Galle Test with five specialist bowlers – Ashwin, Mishra, Ishant, Varun Aaron and Harbhajan Singh – but found their batting weakened as a result of the long tail starting from the still unreliable Wriddhiman Saha. Therefore, despite Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli scoring centuries in the first innings of the first Test and stitching together a mammoth 227-run partnership for the third wicket, India could not bat Srilanka – who had scored just 183 in their first innings – out of the game: they took a lead of 192, but after the fall of Kohli’s wicket at 255, India managed to score just 120 more runs for the last seven wickets.
Not only did India have a long tail because they went in with five bowlers, but Harbhajan wasn’t potent enough while bowling his 25 overs in the first Test and the visitors were forced to look at other options. It was then that Stuart Binny got added to the original 15-man squad, and replaced the Turbanator, straightaway, for the second Test at the P Sara Oval. The Karnataka all-rounder’s inclusion did not pay massive dividends, but India looked a lot more balanced than when they went in with 5 bowlers. So it is clear that India still do not have enough resources in personnel to play five specialist bowlers and be a balanced side.
Third of the takeaways was India’s uncertain batting displays, brought about mainly due to the lack of a settled batting order and an aspect that could cost India in the longer run. Dhawan suffering a hairline fracture in his right hand during the first Test and Murali Vijay playing only the second Test after suffering a hamstring injury before the first Test were the reasons India completed their series win with Cheteshwar Pujara as one of their openers along with Lokesh Rahul.
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But the main talking point was Rohit Sharma’s place in the batting order, which continues to baffle one and all. The Mumbai stylist has done nothing so far in the longest format of the game to suggest that he deserves a place – yes, even a place – in the Indian Test line-up. However, after glorifying Rohit, who was India’s No.3 at the beginning of the series, as someone who could score runs quickly and subsequently help them get on the front foot in games, Kohli and the Indian team management pushed him down to No.5 in the batting order after his twin failures in the Galle Test.
Ajinkya Rahane, being the team man he is, batted at No.3 in the last two Tests and scored a century in the second innings of the 2nd Test. However, his dismissals in the third Test – LBW on both occasions, to Nuwan Pradeep’s in-swingers – suggest that he is not exactly the ‘technician’ India can rely on going forward. No disrespect to the diminutive Mumbai batsman, but I think he, just as Rohit, could flourish if he bats at No.5 instead of a couple of positions higher up the batting order. Going into the Test series against South Africa in November, India simply ought to look at their top-order and middle-order. Dhawan and Vijay should return to open in Tests for the national side, but which two batsmen bat at No.3 and No.5 needs to be decided before then.
With his bowlers putting their hands up and picking wickets whenever needed, Kohli’s captaincy didn’t come under the scanner at any stage during the series. Yes, there were moments when India had to be patient, especially when Mathews was batting and was involved in some sort of a partnership, for wickets and concentrate on maintaining pressure from both ends. But at no stage did you feel India were losing grip of the games, maybe for the exception of Srilanka’s second innings at Galle. Kohli will face far tougher tests when South Africa come to town.
India and Kohli will grow in confidence following this series win that should also make them equipped for much stiffer challenges which lie ahead. The 1-2 series scoreline does give Srilanka a touch of respectability when, in truth, India dominated most of the sessions over the three Tests. India, despite being in a rebuilding process of their own, showed a good degree of efficiency to come out of pressure situations in flying colors; one can only hope that this young Indian Test side which, during the Srilankan series, had everyone (Umesh Yadav, Mishra with the bat, Binny dismissing Mathews in Srilanka’s first innings of the second Test, being a few) putting their hands up and performing, continues to improve from here on.