The recently concluded India vs Sri Lanka series is a perfect example of a complete mismatch, both in terms of quality and commitment. On one side we have India, who is arguably the most improved test team in the last 18 months and on the other, we have Sri Lanka, whose quality and performance has dropped so drastically, that some begin to wonder if this was the team that had whitewashed the mighty Australians just less than a year ago.
First Test- The Return of ‘Gabbar’ and Galle Massacre
Heading into the first test at Galle, the biggest talking point was India’s opening pair. With regular openers Vijay and KL Rahul injured, Shikhar Dhawan was called in as the replacement. He did take his opportunity, and how. Sri Lanka paid the price for dropping him when he was in his 30s, and he eventually went on to score a quickfire 190, as India registered a score of 600 in the first innings.Sri Lanka could never recover from that onslaught and succumbed to a 304 run defeat. The biggest positive though, was the form of Abhinav Mukund; the second innings score of 80 odd was a reflection of the kind of temperament he possesses.
Second Test- TheJadeja Juggernaut and Prescience of a Better Sri Lanka
There was an air of optimism before the second test, with regular captain Chandimal returning from injury. Sri Lanka was expected to atleast put up a fight, but it was the same old story. India won the toss and elected to bat first, and posted a mammoth 622 on the board. After an embarrassing first innings batting performance, the Lankans did show some resistance in the second innings, but it was a little too late. It was just a matter of when and not if for Indians, as they eventually did seal an innings victory.
Third Test- The Final Inundation
The final test match at Pallakele was just a formality. While speaking at the toss, Chandimal had mentioned how they were looking for just one win to gain some confidence and momentum. Their performance, though, was anything but one that instills confidence. In short, it was embarrassing and forgetful. Having conceded 487 runs in the first innings, courtesy a blazing maiden test century by Pandya, Sri Lanka was bundled out for a paltry 135 on a wicket still good for batting, playing out just 37 overs. This is a team that has batted more than 80 overs just once in the entire series. As expected, India enforced follow on and kept up the tempo, dismissing the Lankans for a mere 181.
India outscored Sri Lanka by 528 runs in four innings against Sri Lanka’s six attempts with the willow.
Runs: Shikhar Dhawan- 358 runs at average of 89.50
Wickets: Ravichandran Aswhin- 17 wickets from 145.4 overs
Man of the Series:Shikhar Dhawan
Fifth Umpire Champion of the series: Hardik Pandya and DimuthKarunaratne
India- Familiar Result, Different Heroes
There aren’t many around who can strike the ball long and clean, chip in with a few overs when required and also set the highest of standards on the field. In Hardik Pandya, India has found an all-rounder it has been missing – a fearless player unafraid to take on any kind of opposition.Mohammed Shami is yet another positive with an average of 17.70, strike rate of 36.50 and economy of 2.91, all of which are the best in the series.Saha, Ashwin and Jadeja added solidity to the side with contributions with the bat.The top order did the customary scoring withDhawan and Pujarascoring a couple of centuries each, Rahul with his 7th consecutive test 50 and Kohli and Rahane with a century each. Perhaps the only headache the side carries from this tour is the opening conundrum once Murali Vijay is fit and then,the need to develop a second line spin attack- should Ashwin or Jaddu sit out like the third test match?
Sri Lanka- A Hollow Side with Muffled Comebacks
Sri Lanka had a series to forget. Everything that could have gone wrong for them, did go wrong.Starting from Chandimal’s injury which forced veteran Herath to take over, to one of their best players of recent times in AselaGunaratne fracturing his left thumb during the first game; from their premier fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep pulling up in the second test, to making so many forced and unforced changes due to injury and performances.It all went downhill for the Lankans.Even the experienced batsmen like Chandimal and Mathews let their team down on a few occasions. India’s lowest score in the first innings of this series was 487.The highest opening partnership for Sri Lanka is 22 runs. This speaks volumes of the bowling performance of the Lankans, taking nothing away from the Indian batsmen. The only positive, though, would probably be the emergence of Karunaratne, Sri Lanka’s ‘second innings man’.Having narrowly missed out on a well-deserved century in the first test, he made up for it with a gritty knock of 141 in the second test.
Agreed the odds were in the favor of the currently ranked No.1 test team, but India has outperformed itself. This Indian side has evolved, considered a Kohli-centric side that rises and falls with the rise and fall of Kohli. There are a lot of positives at the end of this cakewalk series, for an entirely different set of hands went up to take the onus, beyond those of Kohli, Pujara or Ashwin.Instead the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Abhinav Mukund, Hardik Pandya and Mohammad Shami have answered the call. For Sri Lanka, one can only hope that this raw lump of clay that went into the fire comes out a beautiful artifact. With Kusal Mendis and Karunaratne, we have perhaps had glimpses of the Sri Lankan side of tomorrow, and if that is anything to go by, there is a reason to hope for exciting times ahead for this war-torn island nation slowly crawls out of the void left behind by Sangakara and Jayawardene.
‘Fifth Umpire’ Series