Sri Lanka might have got away with a draw, but their batsmen won’t forget the thorough working over by a hostile Indian pace attack. The many cricketing aficionados who were fortunate enough to witness the fantastic exploits of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami on Monday evening will cherish it for a long time to come.
It was, without doubt, one of the finest bowling stints by an Indian duo, and KL Rahul, who spoke to the media after the match, was spot-on when he said that India would have won the Test if they could have bowled for another five to six overs. Alas! That was not to be as bad light came to Sri Lanka’s rescue.
What made Bhuvneshwar and Shami’s bowling special was their focused hostility and overt aggression. The fact that Sri Lanka were tottering at 75 for 7 in a mere 26.3 overs when bad light bailed them out tells its own tale.
The most striking aspect of the duo’s bowling was the change in tactics. Unlike in the first innings or at other times when they would painstakingly plot a batsman’s dismissal by setting him up for a false stroke or poor judgement, they were a lot more direct in their approach.
They deliberately altered their line of attack and opted to bowl in line with the stumps or just outside off-stump. This change in approach was particularly pronounced after tea. Earlier, and in the first innings, they concentrated on the fifth or sixth stump line and mixed it up occasionally to induce an edge or poor shot.
On Monday, especially after tea, their aggressive methods were brutally direct. They’d pepper the batsman with short-pitched deliveries in an effort to keep him hanging back, and then pitch up within the stump in an effort to get him bowled or trapped in front.
The Lankans survived a couple of close leg-before decisions, thanks to the Decision Review System (DRS) which found that they were rapped on the pads just outside the line of the stumps or at a height where the ball would have sailed over the stumps.
The reviews and the decisions that went the Lankan way consumed time and it aided their desperate quest for a draw. Of course, the Lankans also used the physio on occasions to attend to their batsmen, and this too wasted time.
But the real story of the day was the bowling of Bhuvneshwar and Shami. No Indian bowling pair in recent memory has ever bowled with such venom and in such an aggressive fashion.
The fact that they had the high-flying Lankans against the wall was a terrific example of the sort of results that quality fast bowling attacks could achieve. Certainly it is no easy to have an international batting line-up on its knees in a matter of 26 overs. But that is exactly what Bhuvneshwar (4 for 8) and Shami (2 for 34) achieved in the 20 overs they sent down. For good measure the other paceman, Umesh Yadav, too picked up one wicket in five overs.
Their incisive spell after tea brought back memories of some of the other memorable fast bowling spells in Test cricket and kindled a hope that this Indian team too could cause similar chaos in opposition ranks if it could unleash the right combination of fit fast bowlers in overseas Tests.
Who can forget one of the finest exhibitions of destructive fast bowling executed by West Indian giant fast bowler Curtly Ambrose during the Perth Test in 1993?
Australia who were one-up in the series were coasting at 85 for 2 when a hostile and fiery Ambrose returned to the bowling crease and routed them. He took seven of the eight wickets for one run. But for Shane Warne getting run out he probably would have had all eight! Australia collapsed from 85 for 2 to 119 all-out and lost the Test. To complete the tale, the WACA curator who prepared the pitch which aided the visitors rather than his own team, was sacked.
On another occasion, in Port of Spain, England required 194 to win when Ambrose bowled with deadly pace and fire to bowl-out England for 46 runs in 19.1 overs! He picked up 6 for 24 and his fellow executioner Courtney Walsh 3 for 16.
Like them, or Mitchell Johnson, who terrorised England during the 2013-14 Ashes, Bhuvneshwar and Shami too almost completed a rout of Sri Lanka on Monday evening.
Ultimately, it might not have happened. But their performance surely would have opened the eyes of Indian cricket’s planners of what might be if they had more of such outstanding pace bowlers at their command.