As India romped home by an innings and 239 runs to record their joint-biggest Test win, there was an air of hopelessness for Sri Lanka and the fans. Among the various factors discussed when the topic 'Test cricket is dying' comes up, the aspect that gets the least attention is the quality of cricket. Apart from an engrossing first session on day two, the Lankans were never in the game while bowling.
The capitulation began with Murali Vijay scoring two boundaries off Dasun Shanaka's first over on the second day. The pressure that was built up to that point gradually vanished, thanks to some harmless bowling from Dilruwan Perera and Dasun Shanaka. By the time the day ended, Sri Lanka sauntered off disheartened. If Dinesh Chandimal had been handed a white flag then and there, he would've waved it vociferously.
India weren't done. They wanted to have some more fun on the third day. Virat Kohli raced to his double century without breaking a sweat. Then Rohit Sharma compiled his first hundred in four years to pile on Sri Lanka's agony.
"Did they change the pitch mid-innings?" a spectator in the stand joked as the visitors started their mission of surviving two days. A pitch that seemed docile for almost 176 overs was showing its demons. Ishant Sharma extracted seam movement, Ravichandran Ashwin imparted spin and even Ravindra Jadeja exploited the cracks excellently in the final 10 overs of day three. The result seemed inevitable; India was going to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Sri Lanka went down as the proverbial pack of cards on the fourth day, with the middle order showing neither will nor skill to dig deep. Sri Lankan fans would have expected some resistance from Dimuth Karunaratne; the opener, after all, is one of the three batsmen to go past 1000 Test runs this year. Instead, he was the first to depart on the fourth day, exposing the wobbly middle-order. Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Matthews didn't show much application either, and India charged in for an early finish.
Only skipper Dinesh Chandimal showed some pluck. His 82-ball 61 proved batting wasn't tough on this track, provided one plays the ball on its merit. His unlikely 58-run partnership with Suranga Lakmal delayed the inevitable, but more importantly, showed the way forward to his batsmen.
So, as the Sri Lankan players go back to the dressing room — even if they might be itching to take the next fight to home — and chalk out some effective plans, while the Indian cricket team enjoys the day off that they have earned, let us go through the talking points of the Nagpur Test:
Sri Lanka's shot selection? Oh blimey!
There is a fine line between playing attacking cricket in difficult situations and looking absolutely stupid while doing so. Sri Lanka, for some reason, have failed to comprehend it since their last series against India.
Three players, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Niroshan Dickwella and skipper Dinesh Chandimal would've avoided interim coach Nic Pothas after their first innings' dismissals. Samarawickrama played away from the body, Dickwella fell to an unforgivable shot while Chandimal tried to be innovative at the wrong time. This has been a recurring problem for the Lankans; they have not just put a price on their wicket.
The trend continued in the second innings, with Thirimanne chasing a wide half-volley and Matthews going for a needless, expansive drive. Shanaka clubbed Ashwin for two sixes, and duly perished attempting a third.
At his level, such mistakes are not acceptable. More so if they are happening repeatedly. Sri Lanka must work on these drawbacks before the Delhi Test.
Ishant's new-found rhythm
Released by India for the Kolkata Test, Delhi captain Ishant Sharma went back to play the Ranji Trophy fixture against Maharashtra and dismantled their top order. A year ago, Ishant was ahead of Umesh Yadav in the pecking order, but the Vidarbha pacer's path-breaking series against Australia pushed him forward. Ishant had to wait for his chance patiently. He was overlooked during the Sri Lanka tour as well. However, Mohammed Shami's niggle provided an opening to the lanky pacer and he was spot on.
Ishant hit the correct areas from ball one. His stock ball accounted for Dimuth Karunaratne in the first innings; from around the wicket (awkward angle), he pitched it on a length and seamed it back in. Karunaratne was pinged in front.
He set up Samarawickrama intelligently in the second innings, comprehensively outsmarting the batsman. Ishant began with an outswinger to the 22-year-old, who chased it rather thoughtlessly. Wanting to improve his mistake, Samarawickrama decided to leave the second delivery. But to his dismay, it jagged back in and hit the top of off.
Ishant continued his form on the fourth day as well. Coming round the wicket to left-handed Dickwella, he found the right length to get the batsman committed on the front foot, and got the extra bounce to take the outside edge that was accepted by Kohli on the second attempt.
Ishant's ability to extract bounce and his skill with the old ball will be vital for India in away tours and his current form is a terrific sign for the side.
Ashwin-Jadeja back to routine
Perera conceded 202 runs in his 42 overs at 4.49. Rangana Herath, on the other hand, snared only one Indian wicket. Apart from a few select deliveries, they couldn't even spin the ball. But Ashwin and Jadeja? They made the visitors dance to their tunes on a day one track.
The pitch wasn't assisting spin much. But Ashwin, as is his wont, read the batsmen's intent and Jadeja was immaculately accurate.
In the first innings, Lahiru Thirimanne kept avoiding to plonk his front foot in front of the off-stump to keep the lbw out of the way. Sensing that, Ashwin tossed up one around off and the southpaw attempted a sweep. The problem, though, was he didn't cover the line of the ball and his off-stump was exposed. He missed his shot and the red cherry crashed onto the stumps. The same was the case with Jadeja, who picked up three wickets.
Their performance, as expected, improved in the second innings, as Ashwin and Jadeja combined for six wickets. Ashwin also bagged his 300th Test wicket, becoming the fastest to the mark. The off-spinner achieved the feat in his 54th Test, two fewer than Australian fast-bowling great Dennis Lillee.
With no wickets to show for the spinners at Kolkata, this was a welcome change for the Indian team.
Vijay seals the second opener's slot?
Murali Vijay or Shikhar Dhawan was the question which many were asking before the first Test. Dhawan, eventually, was selected ahead of the Tamil Nadu batsman. In hindsight, it was an easy decision for the management, given that they must be aware that Dhawan was going to leave the squad for the Nagpur game for personal reasons.
Vijay was out of the Indian team for eight months. He was selected for the away Sri Lanka series but he opted out of it as he wasn't fully fit. He also had a wrist surgery. So when he came out to open after the lay-off, there were doubts hovering around as to how he would respond.
'The Monk', however, made it look all too easy. He did everything during his 128-run knock: displayed patience in challenging phases, dominated when he felt like and also went back into cocoon thereafter. It was a quintessential Vijay innings which ended in a typical fashion.
Vijay is one of the better travelers in the Indian squad. He thrives in alien conditions and the debate over the second opener's slot should ideally be shut immediately. Vijay scored over Dhawan anyways, but this century has just highlighted that even more.
Rohit announces comeback in style
Rohit's luck always evades him in Test cricket. He was slotted to debut in 2010 but a freak injury delayed it by three years. Even in 2016, when the Mumbai batsman was looking in great touch, and registered fifties in three consecutive Tests against New Zealand, he got injured. It must have been a frustrating phase for him. Rohit is the first choice in India's limited-overs' team after Virat Kohli but he hasn't been able to cement his spot in the longest format.
He came out to bat when India were in total control. However, they still needed some quick runs to bat the opposition out of the match completely. He started positively, used his feet, left balls confidently and went on the front foot with ease. He batted eternally on 49 but paced his innings well after crossing it. He also got to his first Test hundred since his debut series 2013.
"I wouldn't say I was under pressure, but I was nervous. It's close to 500 days since I last played a Test. I just wanted to rotate the strike, get the singles and get that initial (feet) movement going. Last season when I missed out on a big home season due to injury that was a little disappointing. India is never going to get such a season with 13 home games. Not being part of that was a disappointment," Rohit said at the end of day three.
The number six position will be vital for India in the upcoming tours. Can Rohit fit that role? Only time will tell. But his current form augurs well for the side.
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