After three Tests, and the term ‘test’ is used loosely, India have come away as three-nil series winners from their tour to neighbours Sri Lanka. For so long so formidable at home, the Sri Lankans capitulated under the weight of pressure from a far superior cricket team over the course of the series.
Before the series, Indian captain Virat Kohli spoke about returning to Sri Lanka, where back in 2015, India’s ascent to World No 1 began with a come from behind 2-1 series win. That series win was tough, it was a hard-fought contest between two competitive teams. The sequel was not. The 2017 edition saw two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum — two teams with a huge gulf in class — do 'battle', for want of a better word, as there was very little fight from Sri Lanka.
India won the toss and batted first in all three matches, giving themselves the best opportunity to make big scores and put pressure on the hosts. They passed 600 in the first two Tests and made 487 in the third, and in all three matches they were in a position to enforce the follow-on, which they did in the second and third Tests.
Sri Lanka’s resistance to India’s onslaught was seldom seen in the opening Test in Galle, but it only got worse from there. A second innings fightback when following on in Colombo showed some character and earned respect, but the embarrassing capitulation in just 37.4 overs in Kandy erased any credits the hosts might have built up.
As the series wore on, the difference in where these two sides are in their relative cricketing cycles became increasingly evident. On one hand, you had Sri Lanka still reeling and yet to recover from the retirements of their golden generation and struggling to be competitive against the world’s best — this after only scraping home against Zimbabwe recently. On the other hand you had the Virat Kohli-led India coming off an unbeaten home season where they lost only one Test match and swept aside New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia. Momentum and skill was with India and they romped to their first-ever away series whitewash.
If a script could be written for the perfect series then the Indians must have found it. Barring a suspension to Ravindra Jadeja everything went to plan for the tourists, and even when regular players Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, and Jadeja were unavailable for some or all of the series their replacements stepped seamlessly into their roles.
India went into the first Test without their two first choice opening batsmen, but Shikhar Dhawan reminded everyone of his scoring power after receiving an early life and Abhinav Mukund showed glimpses in his second innings half-century. Dhawan would take confidence from his dashing 190, his Test best, and go on to score 119 in Kandy and be named Player of the Series. The dashing left-hander now provides the selectors with a nice selection dilemma when Vijay recovers from his wrist injury.
In the third Test, Kuldeep Yadav adequately filled the void left by Jadeja to claim four first innings scalps and once again gave glimpses into his huge potential. The Sri Lankans attempted to unsettle the second gamer by going after him but Kuldeep settled after a shaky start and showed off his variety and control.
To add to Dhawan’s brilliant series at the top of the order captain Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane scored a century each to ensure India’s engine room continued to deliver big runs. However the most impressive innings, and the one that will buoy the team the most, was Hardik Pandya’s maiden Test century, and first hundred at First Class-level. India’s newest all-rounder smashed 108 from 96 balls to ensure India posted a formidable 487, which proved to be enough to bowl Sri Lanka out twice. With only the tail for company, Pandya showed off his repertoire of strokes and gave Indian fans high hopes that he could develop into the seam bowling all-rounder India have craved since the great Kapil Dev.
While Umesh Yadav seemed short of his best and the form of the home season, perhaps suffering the effects of a heavy workload, Mohammad Shami’s return from injury was another boost to India’s already potent attack. The Bengal seamer was impressive throughout and bowled with good pace and no shortage of skill.
While several Indian players enhanced or at least maintained their reputations, it was a sorry tale for Sri Lanka. Injuries to key players throughout the series tested a shallow talent pool and when the senior players struggled to show much fight the writing was on the wall. New skipper Dinesh Chandimal, who missed the first Test through injury, described the humiliating whitewash as his worst series ever.
India will look at this series as another box ticked, a series they were expected to win comfortably if not as easily as they did. For Sri Lanka, there is much soul searching ahead before they take on the same foe in a few months’ time in a return series. Based on the performances we have witnessed over the past few weeks, the next edition of this rivalry could be just as one-sided.