If the result against Sri Lanka in the first Test is a sign of things to come, Virat Kohli can sit back and relax with a wide grin. The 304-run margin of victory — India’s biggest in overseas Tests in terms of runs — was as clinical a performance as one could expect from a side. Right from the start, India were enthusiastic, had a plan and dominated the opposition. In fact, they barely gave the hosts a sniff all through the match.
India aren't known to be a great overseas team. Yet, something about the team is changing, as revealed by their stunning performance as Galle, which follows a series win in the same country two years back. That time, they came back from being 1-0 down to seal the series 2-1. A series of sensational performances followed at home and when they returned to the Island Nation, they just continued from where they had left off. A few things stood out at Galle in India's outstanding show.
Shikhar Dhawan making a point
Shikhar Dhawan wasn't even in the initial squad named for this tour. Yet, when the opportunity arose to make a point, he made it as memorable as his debut against Australia. The manner in which he started India's first innings was instrumental to the positivity the team displayed right through the four days.
It even rubbed off on Cheteshwar Pujara, who appeared to play quite a lot of strokes early in his innings. Even when he settled down, there was real intent from Pujara, a welcome sign, given that he has a habit of getting bogged down at the wicket at certain times. Dhawan finished with 190 to his name, a knock that could certainly put pressure on KL Rahul when he comes back. Pujara, meanwhile, grabbed another 150+ score, something he missed out on in the series decider in Sri Lanka two years back — he had made 145 then while opening the innings.
Handling Rangana Herath
After India's loss in the first match of the 2015 series, they handled Rangana Herath by stepping out and playing him without fear in the next two Tests. The tactic was to use the feet to meet the ball before it could take turn, a tactic which disrupted Herath (read: Sri Lanka) so much that they collapsed to a 2-1 loss. The agenda was similar this time around. The Indians were quick on their feet, lunging back and forth to completely put Herath off. The spinner went at four runs per over in the first innings.
The role of seam bowlers
Earlier, India were content with their spinners taking wickets in sub-continental conditions. But the onus on pace has seen fast bowlers revel even on dusty tracks. Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav were relentless and Hardik Pandya complemented them in the second innings, finding some reverse swing to trouble the Lankans.
The pace bowlers managed to create openings with the red new cherry both times, with first three wickets falling to pace in the first innings. In the second dig, Shami and Umesh had Lanka two down by the sixth over.
With bigger challenges awaiting them in South Africa later this year, the performance of Yadav, Shami and Pandya is heartening. Kohli and Ravi Shastri both prefer out-and-out fast bowlers and on better seaming tracks, India now have a quality pack of wolves with the new ball.
Ashwin’s patience and Jadeja’s relentless lines
Ravichandran Ashwin, despite all his heroics in India, has a major flaw when the opposition batsmen get going. He tries way too many things, something which led to his drop from the Test team after a drawn Test in South Africa where he failed to tighten the noose around a fighting Proteas. In that 2013 Test in Johannesburg, South Africa almost chased down 458. Tellingly, he bowled just five maidens in his 36 overs and then failed to apply little or no pressure on a fifth-day wicket.
But Ashwin’s makeover was evident at Galle when Dimuth Karunaratne and Niroshan Dickwella strung together a compelling partnership. Ashwin got rid of both of them by varying his flight and pace with ease.
Jadeja, on the other hand, played the perfect foil for Ashwin, sticking to his impeccable lines and generating immense pressure from one end. The thing about Jadeja is that he is quite the opposite of Ashwin. He is content sticking to his stump-to-stump line and bamboozling batsmen with minor variations. In fact, he started Lanka's slide in the second innings by dismissing Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews in quick succession.
How this series shapes out will be critical to India’s hopes of competing in more difficult conditions abroad. Given the dismal manner in which Lanka performed, India should have enough leeway to experiment and shape up the perfect team for tougher assignments. That being said, the current XI has given enough evidence of being competitive in every aspect of the game. If anything, the signs point towards a series whitewash unless Sri Lanka find some fight.
Updated Date: Jul 30, 2017 11:20 AM