Ravindra Jadeja’s moment of madness when he hurled the ball dangerously close to batsman Dimuth Karunaratne came back to bite him and sour celebrations after India’s historic win over Sri Lanka at the SSC in Colombo on Sunday.
Jadeja had already been docked three points for repeatedly running on the pitch during the Indore Test against New Zealand in October and this, the fourth demerit point copped him an automatic ban for the next Test starting on Saturday.
But for that misdemeanour, the Indian team’s performance was a standout one. In the process, skipper Virat Kohli and company achieved what no other Indian team had been able to accomplish over the past 20 years — win back-to-back Tests and series in Sri Lanka.
The team now has back-to-back series wins, against New Zealand, England, Australia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, besides three series wins earlier. The eight series wins are a milestone. One more would help India equal the world record held by Australia.
India’s commendable innings and 53-run win in the second Test was made easier by winning the toss and opting to bat first. This sealed Sri Lanka’s fate as the pitch deteriorated considerably after the initial two days.
Additionally there was terrific team work where batsmen, bowlers and wicket-keeper all contributed to the cause. The close-in fielding was a shame but even they had their moments, like Cheteshwar Pujara’s brilliant catch to dismiss Angelo Mathews off Ravichanran Ashwin in the first innings.
The pleasing aspect for India was the successful return of KL Rahul. He made runs to slip into the groove almost instantly while Pujara (133) and Ajinkya Rahane (132) dominated the run-scoring.
The all-rounders too chipped in superbly, with Jadeja (70), Wriddhiman Saha (67) and Ashwin (54) lending beef to the batting. This was particularly welcome as the team showed that it had the depth and character down the order to keep the opposition at bay.
Sri Lanka fielded just one pacer, probably banking on the spinners to do the job. But, as skipper Dinesh Chandimal accepted after the Test, "things did not always go to plan".
On the other hand, the Indian skipper welcomed Sri Lanka’s fighback in the second innings when Kushal Mendis and Karunaratne each got a century and thwarted Indian efforts for 191 runs during a stirring second wicket fightback.
"You expect teams playing Test cricket to come out and play like that. Because of the way we got wickets in the first innings, sometimes frustration can creep in when we don’t get wickets in a session. There is no point having expectations on getting wickets like in the first innings all over again and getting frustrated if you don’t get wickets.
"You have to give credit to the batsmen as well. To play like that on this pitch, it was high-quality batting. We spoke as a team that we have to embrace this because all sessions that we play are not going to go our way. We wanted to be realistic and keep working hard, keep hitting the areas, keep doing the skills we know best and just wait for something to happen.
"The first session on Sunday was hard work but we spoke of a little bit of discipline, knowing that they will come out and play only one way because it was very difficult to defend on this pitch. The bowlers did an outstanding job of pulling things back and keeping it simple. And that’s what happens in Test cricket. Sessions go away from you and you have to pull it back to win a Test match. It was very good for us from a team’s point of view. We were up against a challenge in the last four sessions that we played on Saturday and today. We managed to turn things around and you always feel good as a team when you come back from a difficult situation and win the Test match," said Kohli.
Of course, the spin twins Ashwin and Jadeja were the kingpins of the bowling attack. While Ashwin finished with 5 for 69 and 2 for 132, Jadeja bagged 2 for 84 in the first essay and 5 for 134 in the second for both to complete a fine all-round display.
But the performance of the match came from wicket-keeper Saha. He was absolutely brilliant while keeping to the spinners. The manner in which he kept to Jadeja’s viciously spinning deliveries was a treat to watch. It showed exemplary glove-work and an enviable ability to keep an eye on the ball.
Saha did enough to prove that he is one of the best wicket-keepers in world cricket. The fact that his batting too is sound and dependable adds heft to the team.
Thus the series win has done a lot for bringing the team together and enhancing the ability of a number of players. Kudos to the selectors and team management for putting together a team that achieved what no other Indian team has in the past two to three decades.