Talk of another 9-0 thrashing in India’s favour had begun. From a connoisseur to a commoner, all declared the result even before Sri Lanka set foot on Indian shores, obviously after they had finished yelling 'AGAIN?!’ looking at the two teams competing.
Nobody gave the Lankan side a chance, and to be fair they didn't really have a good reason to, especially going by India’s recent success and the brand of cricket they were displaying. It made for a simple choice. But within three curtailed days of cricket, Sri Lanka have showed signs of dogged resilience — with the ball first and later with the bat — suggesting they are far from done yet. Despite clean sweeping Pakistan in an away Test series, the backlash of a nine-zero humbling remained in the forefront of everybody’s mind.
At the risk of jumping the gun and being as fickle as the Pallekele’s bottle-hurtling crowds, it is fair to say Sri Lanka have shown sparks of grit and toughness in the limited play we have had in Kolkata. It is this sort of spirit that eluded Dinesh Chandimal and Co couple of months ago, and this fightback is what the cricketing community in general craved for, from one of its team, who relied purely on self–belief to write the most glorious chapter in their cricketing annals.
Not that this team has rewritten history books or reversed the tide or even gained complete control in the ongoing Tests, in fact there are a lot of things that still require some fine-tuning underlining the fact that they are still work-in-progress. A particular example can be cited in Chandimal’s defensive tactics against India’s lower order, despite having India on the ropes with the scoreboard reading 128/8 on Day 2. Captain Chandimal's ploy of placing as many as 6 men in the deep when India’s number 9 and 10 were batting, was questionable. Sure, Mohammad Shami can use the long handle to good effect and Bhuvneshwar Kumar was also in no mood to hang around but allowing them vacant spaces to take the easy singles showed the lack of confidence in his side's abilities.
The spread-out field allowed the two tail-enders and No 11 Umesh Yadav to add 44 valuable runs to the team’s total.
Having said that, Chandimal's constant interaction with young bowlers like Lahiru Gamage helped the bowler to find the right length on Day 3 after spraying it all over on the first two days of the Test. The confidence shown in him helped team reap rich rewards, besides helping the bowler, playing his 2nd Test, breach none other than Cheteshwar Pujara's defences, an achievement any bowler would be proud of.
Having said that, Sri Lanka are in a good position going into Day 4 to assert their authority. So, whatever progress they have made needs more support from the cricketing fraternity.
When Suranga Lakmal dismissed India’s top three cheaply on Day 1, it was largely credited to the overcast conditions and the grass on the surface and same was said after 21 overs on Day 2.
After looking at Indian batsmen's struggle, most predicted Sri Lankan batsmen would throw in the towel before the troika of Indian fast bowlers — Shami, Yadav and Bhuvneshwar. But well, Sri Lanka managed to survive on a sticky wicket to a fair extent, so much so that they find themselves a couple of strokes away from surpassing India’s score, something that they haven’t been able to do in their last ten Test innings.
Even experts wrote off Sri Lanka and considered the series as a litmus test for the forthcoming tour of South Africa, while Indian captain Virat Kohli reiterated that they treat it as a stand alone series and wouldn’t want to think of 2018 just yet, giving due respect to their opposition.
The Sri Lankan side went through an internal turmoil when their own countrymen turned their backs on them when they had hit rock bottom. From former players blaming the board for a string of poor performances, the selection panel resigning and their fans expressing their displeasure by holding up the team bus, throwing bottles and losing faith in their team.
Whatever may be the outcome of the ongoing match, series or even the entire tour, the Islanders have started on the right note and belittling their skill and efforts to conditions or other factors would not help a side that is trying to regain its lost confidence.
Moreover it is imperative on the part of the cricket community in general to support one of its fascinating member to not slide away into oblivion. And who doesn't enjoy a hard-fought contest? Close to 115 overs of cricket played over the last three days has been more compelling than the whole of India's recent tour of Sri Lanka.
In the days of instant gratification we tend to write off teams pretty easily, based on poor performances over a few months. So a little more patience can be displayed towards a transitioning Lankan side and can act as a huge boost for them.
For Sri Lanka's point of view it is important for them to not breakdown easily and be unrelenting in their development to carry on the torched flame for the times to come.