Unexpected reverse for India against GenNext Sri Lanka….writesVeturi Srivatsa
India lost yet another Test overseas, if one considers Sri Lanka as “foreign” in the stricter sense of the word. This unexpected reverse at a time when the Islanders are in the process of building their GenNext team after the retirement of Mahela Jayawardene and Tillekaratne Dilshan and the impending exit of Kumar Sangakkara after the second Test in Colombo.
Not that the Indian team is full of experienced and veterans, they too are now trying fix the right slots for their batsmen and the kind of bowlers to play. But the team that lost on India’s Independence Day had players who have been around for a couple of years.
Naturally, the Twitterati and the statisticians got into action soon after the match. Now even those who were baying for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s blood are missing him! If only, Dhoni had been there at Adelaide and in Galle, he would have turned things around, said a former teammate of his. The statsman says Dhoni won all his first four Tests as captain and eight of his first 11, drawing the remaining three. As for Kohli, he lost two and drawn two.
Someone deduced from all this that Dhoni won matches that appeared lost and Kohli lost from a winning position! Too unkind to judge a young captain after only four Tests. It is unfair to his leadership qualities after just four Tests in three different series. He should be given time to settle down in his job.
To be fair to Kohli, he did not try to take shelter under ifs and buts for the defeat when he said the talented team of his is to be squarely blamed for it. He gave credit to Dinesh Chandimal, the young man who stood down as captain because of his poor form in Twenty20 World Cup semi-final and let Lasith Malinga to lead the side, in showing how to dare bat on a tuner.
Rengana Herath, who did not get even one wicket in 33 overs in the first innings, finished with seven in the second in 21 overs. Come to think of it, he was dropped for the third Test against Pakistan on form! Strange things happen in cricket.
How does one explain that Chandimal scored an unbeaten 162 a few hours earlier on same pitch Herath described as demanding. If so many batsmen perished in the close-in cordon, it has something to do with the pitch. But at the same time the Indian batsmen did not show the courage Chandimal showed to adjust to the demands of the situation.
Only Shikhar Dhawan, Kohli and Ashwin got out to good catches, attempting aggressive strokes. Look at the way No.10 Amit Mishra batted getting down to the pitch to drive or smother the spin. With a couple of wickets in hand, Ajinkya Rahane could have farmed the strike, which he tried, to make a fist of it.
In the discussion before the Galle Test whether India should play three spinners in a five-pronged attack, the fact that seemed to have escaped the team’s think-tank is the nature of the pitches in the island nation and that after losing the toss India may have to bat in the fourth innings.
In recent times the pitches in Sri Lanka had helped the spinners and just before the India series the Pakistanis beat the Islanders 2-1 with their leg-spinner Yasir Shah exploiting the bounce and turn to bamboozle the batsmen.
One can advance more than one reason for India’s unexpected defeat in the first of the three-Test series after the way the entire team could not match Chandimal’s second-innings effort well supplemented by the inputs from Sangakkara, skipper Angelo Mathew, Lahiru Thirimanne and Jehan Mubaraka.
Whether it is fourth day or fifth day wicket, the pressure of batting last even if they are chasing less than 200 runs will be there. How many times teams folded up for low scores chasing a target after getting a handy first-innings lead, more so by India in recent years. What is disturbing is the batsmen are collapsing in a heap far too frequently. This raises the question of not only their technical ineptitude but also their temperament.
The first thing the critics of the five-bowler theory will ask is how come the opponents got away with 300 plus score in their second innings after getting bowled out for 183 in the first. Hasn’t playing two off-spinners, the second one on sheer reputation of having taken 400 plus wickets, boomeranged? It is no reflection or comment on his great craft, but for all his experience and record one expects Harbhajan to return with better returns.
The other argument that always questions a captain’s thinking is whether he is honour bound to distribute overs equally among the three spinners. Normally, it is found one of the bowlers is underbowled. Kohli got it wrong in the second innings.
The Indian captain put himself under pressure to bowl Harbhajan when he should have ideally continued with Ravichandran Ashwin, the only bowler to have claimed 10 wickets on a track that certainly helped the spinners even on Day One. He bowled Harbhajan and Mishra 17 overs each when he should have used Ashwin with the leg-spinner in a longer spell. Harbhajan’s restrictive length and line helped Chandimal to sweep away to glory.
India will play their second Test at Colombo’s P. Sara Stadium where the Pakistanis a chased down a 377-run target for the loss of three wickets month ago. But then they had someone of the experiece of Younis Khan to bat through the innings to score 171. The Indians should remember that class and talent are things that are of no use if they are not exhibited at the crunch time.
Overnight, Sri Lanka have become favourites for the second Test and the Indians are facing question marks. That’s cricket for you.