Tricky. That was the word on everyone’s lips this morning as India resumed their chase of a modest target (176) on 23 for 1 in Galle. A tricky target on a tricky wicket against tricky spinners. And it proved to be so.
Showing a familiar tendency to capitulate in the second innings of a Test match, India were bowled out for 112, still 64 runs short of what seemed an inevitable victory for the first three days of this Test. As is the case when something remarkable like this happens in sport, there are plenty of talking points: Umpiring decisions, five-bowler strategy, the ideal batting order for India and so on.
But India lost this Test match simply because they shot themselves in the foot with an ultra-defensive approach at the start of the day's play.
Seven runs came from the first six overs. It took 36 balls for Shikhar Dhawan to score his first runs of the day.
On a pitch where it was evident that the spinners would be the biggest threats, Sri Lanka's quick bowlers started the proceedings. Dhawan, perhaps hindered by his injured right hand, missed a trick by not scoring runs off Dhammika Prasad and Nuwan Pradeep early on. The fast bowlers – including a solitary over from Angelo Mathews – bowled nine overs in the first hour that went for 13 runs, which included three back-to-back maiden overs for Pradeep to Dhawan.
Granted, all the bowlers bowled good lines but Dhawan did not even make the effort to work the ball in to the gaps. So when Herath and Kaushal started bowling in tandem, the batsmen were already cocooned deep in their shell. The flow of runs had completely dried up and the Sri Lankan tail was up when Herath dismissed Rohit Sharma and Kaushal removed Virat Kohli cheaply.
Meanwhile at the other end, Ishant Sharma, who did his job as night-watchman on Friday, also contributed to India's dull start by scoring five from the 15 balls he faced.
Six batsmen or seven, if the top-order fails collectively like they did against Rangana Herath and Tharindhu Kaushal, there is little point in looking for excuses – like Virat Kohli rightly pointed out. A target of 176 divided up between six batsmen works out to roughly 29 runs per batsman – it’s simple math. India have five batsmen in the side averaging much higher than that and all they needed was one solid partnership between two of them.
Ajinkya Rahane realised late in the innings the importance of the cliché - best form of defence is attack – and started sweeping and driving with confidence. Even Amit Mishra – who was praised by Kohli as the second best batsman for India in their dismal second innings effort – was able to get boundaries when he gave the spinners the charge.
All that, in the end, proved to be too little too late. The damage was done in the first hour. On Independence Day, India paid the price for not batting with freedom.
Updated Date: Aug 16, 2015 12:02 PM