Day one: Sri Lanka, all out for 183 runs. India, start shakily and finish the day at 128/2.
Day Two: India finishes on 375 all out, with centuries from Dhawan and Kohli. Sri Lanka end the day at 5/2.
Day Three: Chandimal’s counter-attacking century gives the hosts a tricky yet, underwhelming lead of 175 runs. India put to bat, and loses an opener promptly, finishing the day at 23/1.
Day Four: The characteristic Indian collapse. Sri Lanka wins the test match by 63 runs.
A story sound familiar? Look closely at the day-by-day scorecard of this test match, and several others over the course of the past couple of years and a pattern emerges. In the first Test match in India’s tour of Sri Lanka that concluded this day at Galle, India had the clear upper hand right from Day one to the ignominious collapse of Day four. They had batted well, fielded brilliantly and until the steady lower order resistance of Day three, the Indian spinners led by Ashwin had attacked like a pack of wolves. And yet, India suffered another inconsolable defeat overseas. What went wrong?
Even for someone like me, whose cricket punditry skills are not exactly Sunil Gavaskar, but strictly Rohan Gavaskar, the writing is evident on the wall. India lost the match because the team failed to press on with the advantage it had at Lunch, on Day three. Mathews and the great Sangakkara had just been dismissed in quick succession. And yet, instead of going for the kill like a shark that smelt blood, India gave it away. The bowlers allowed a belligerent Dinesh Chandimal to dictate the terms while the lower order of the Sri Lankan attack mounted a steady resistance on a wildly unpredictable, and spinning pitch. In the end, India were left with 176 runs to win the test match, a molehill by modern standards but, a mountain on a pitch where no team had successfully chased a target of over 100 runs. Ever.
As good as India’s batting lineup is, it is also gravely inexperienced. To put it in perspective, this is a team where the leading test run-scorer after Captain Virat Kohli is, *drumroll* Harbhajan Singh. And it showed, as the Indian team collapsed like a pack of cards in just over forty years to a terrific spell of bowling by Rangana Herath. Another test match lost overseas by one god-awful session of cricket. That’s the Indian cricket team.
Ruthless? Not so much
The issue isn’t with the team not playing good cricket. The issue is that the team, far more often than not, has let go of their advantage in the game when they should have been throttling their opponents by their throats. This is what happened at Trent bridge, when Broad-Anderson stitched over a hundred runs between them when England were at 120 odd, for the loss of 8 wickets. It was repeated at the Wanderers when India had to settle for a draw after posting a mammoth target of 457 runs for South Africa to chase. It became a habit when India crumbled post-tea at the Adelaide Oval last year after doing all the hard work and coming achingly close to seal the test match. Ruthlessness, it would seem is lacking in this Indian team, a trait that was characteristic of the great Australian side of the last decade. And it would seem, the Captain didn’t do much to help it.
Virat Kohli is an aggressive captain. You could see it when he set tight fields for batsmen, and in the way he shuffled his bowlers. But, he’s also inexperienced which is why he shuffled his bowlers too much, so much so that none, with the exception of Ashwin, found any flow or rhythm. And bowling in Test Cricket, is as much about rhythm as it is about line and length. In any case, these are still early days for him and hopefully, Kohli the captain will have loads to gain from this experience.
That said, I would have hoped that the likes of Rohit Sharma, the man who has two double hundreds in ODI cricket would have made an impact today, especially after the Captain’s blind confidence in him. Honestly, Rohit Sharma is a sheer joy to watch in ODI Cricket, but I really don’t think he has the temperament for Test Cricket. I hope he does surprise me. As for others like Ishant Sharma, the supposed leader of the bowling attack, performances in warm-ups is not translating to performances in actual test matches. And perhaps, despite his ability to win the team matches, maybe the team has carried his burden for far too long.
Aakash Chopra put it perfectly when he tweeted, ‘Youth is often both promising and unpredictable. Be patient with this young Indian team.’ He’s right. We may have suffered yet another defeat, but our boys need us to stand by them. Young as the team may be, it’ll only learn with every test they play. Who knows, maybe the Indian team, like every body else refused to work on a government holiday. Who knows, India may well be the party-poopers at Sangakkara’s deserved swansong next week.