Fire in Lanka

India win the third test by 117 runs, and the series 2-1

Four years and two months after they last won an overseas Test series in the West Indies (1-0) – just a month after becoming World Champions for the second time in 2011 – the Indian cricket team defeated Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka for the first time in 23 years, to win only their third ever test series after losing the first match. That’s a lot of statistics in one sentence, but that’s perhaps how historical this series has been. Granted they didn’t beat the strongest Lankan team in the world. In fact, this Lankan team is as weak and inexperienced as the team in transition during the 1999 World Cup – but a win is a win. India is an equally young team in transition, and just a month after Sri Lanka lost a home series to Pakistan, they have once again seen defeat on the soil they once owned with a regal air. 

These were two average teams fighting to be less average, and fighting to make a mark in a landscape peppered with inconsistency and no particular dominance from any one team. In the end, after losing a test they really should have won in Galle, India came back and won both the tests in Colombo– with new captain Virat Kohli winning his first full test series in charge. 

For the first time ever in a 3-test series, India managed to take all 60 wickets. The Indian bowlers have been impressive through the season, right from the World Cup to now. They didn’t concede 400 runs even once in the series. 

There was a time when it was an absolute grind to achieve even any sort of result on the flatdusty pitches of Sri Lanka, but times seem to have changed. For the second time in a row, a 3-Test series has ended 2-1 in the island nation. Gone are the days when partnerships would exceed 500 runs, and totals of 700 were par for the course – or when Mahela Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralitharan boosted their career stats simply by playing at Galle and SSC once a year. 

The pitches have changed, and so have the team’s fortunes. In the end, as Ravi Shastri has often said, cricket is the winner

Here’s the report card for the victorious Indian test team:

Shikhar Dhawan (7/10)

He played just the one match at Galle, scored a century, only to see his team lose the plot on the final day. Many blamed his stuck-in-first-gear innings during the 175-run chase, but his century on day 2 had laid the foundation for India to take a massive lead. He batted gamely, and continued from where he left off in Bangladesh. Much like Cheteshwar Pujara, he has become an Asia specialist too. 

Murali Vijay (7/10)

He came back in Colombo to be out LBW off only the second ball of the innings. His second innings 82 was an innings of substance and class – one that set the tone, and one that he has been known to play as the first-choice opener of this team. He missed the game at SSC, but will be relieved to finally be part of a winning team overseas after countless failures. 

KL Rahul (4/10)

Irrespective of what people say about the talent and promise he shows, I’m just not convinced. He is too loose to be an opener, and scored only 126 runs in the series, out of which he scored 108 in the first innings of the second test. He finished with a pitiful average of 21, with 5 single-digit scores (and 7 such scores out of 9 total career innings – the other two are centuries). It’s not that he’s a hit-or-miss player; he misses a lot. If not for that dropped catch, he would have been out for 14 that day too. He proved to be a good slip catcher for the team, but dropped a few crucial ones. He has a long way to go before he cements himself into this team. 

Rohit Sharma (6/10)

He ended up as India’s second highest scorer with 202 runs – but that’s a convenient stat. Dhawan and Vijay played just a match each, and Ajinkya Rahane was put in at no. 3 to accommodate Rohit at 5. Rohit could have done more, as always, and two half centuries aren’t an indicator of the hard work he had put in just to stay at the crease. He also pulled off India’s best close-in catch of the series at short leg. It’ll be between Rahul and him for that coveted test spot, and as of now, he’s in the lead. 

Ajinkya Rahane (6/10)

Except for the one century in the second test – a crucial one at that – Rahane disappointed, and showed that he isn’t exactly used to being juggled around the batting order. His knock was a match-winning one, but he needs to be more consistent in order to cement his spot as India’s most reliable batsman. As of now, he has to get used to an unfamiliar no. 3 spot. However, he has been India’s best fielder, and broke the world record for most outfield catches in a single test match at Galle. Safest hands in the team, by far. 

Stuart Binny (5/10)

He either batted or bowled – never did both in the same match. The two matches he played – he contributed to some crucial moments, but bowled far better than was expected. He contributed with the bat at SSC in the second innings with a counter-attacking knock, and many will agree that he has punched above his weight in the series. I still feel that Bhuvneshwar Kumar would work better as an all-rounder in the squad. 

Wriddhiman Saha (7/10)

He was exceptional with the gloves, as well as the bat in the two tests he played. He showed application, innovation, aggression and promise – to convince selectors that he is MS Dhoni’s worthy successor behind the stumps, at least in the longer format of the game. 

Virat Kohli (7/10)

Once again, he was India’s highest scorer in the series, but could have contributed far more if not for his tendency to waft at balls outside off. He led his team well, and has learned fast after his lessons in Australia. Not many captains have won their first series in charge away from home, and Kohli’s ability to rotate his bowlers and chalk out plans for the important Lankan batsmen will always stand out. 

R. Ashwin (8/10)

Man of the Series, with 23 wickets, and a crucial half century at SSC when India needed the runs, Ashwin has finally become India’s lead spinner – and has proved that he can bowl on pitches that don’t always assist him. He showed brilliant control and looped, dipped and spun the ball to deceiveKumar Sangakkara 4 times in 4 innings – spoiling the farewell for Lanka’s greatest ever batsman. This was also his fourth man-of-the-series award, and perhaps the beginning of his next innings. 

Amit Mishra (8/10)

Finally, India has a leg spinner in tests after Anil Kumble. The experienced pudgy little player came from the reserves and spun a web around the Lankans at Colombo, while also scoring 157 smart runs with the bat. He batted when Ashwin didn’t, and proved that he was always going to be India’s best bet ahead of Harbhajan Singh

Harbhajan Singh (1/10)

He was a disaster in the first test, and thankfully, Kohli and co. realized that his farewell should have been that one-off test in Bangladesh itself. 

Ishant Sharma (8/10)

A revelation in the series with 13 hard-fought and tough wickets. He was India’s best bowler at the SSC, and the reason they won the match on the fifth day. His silly aggression and sendoffs aside, Ishant finally proved that he could bowl with pace and bounce, consistently, for prolonged periods, if given a little help from the pitch. 

Cheteshwar Pujara (8/10)

A career-defining 146* at the SSC saved India the blushes and set them up for a record-breaking win. His duck in the second innings was forgotten – such was the sheer weight of his first-innings comeback century. Hopefully, he will find a permanent place in a side that desperately needs his temperament and calm at the crease, in a team full of flash and talent. He personifies grit and hard work, and he is the glue that can hold the team together in test matches. Kohli and co. must choose him over Rohit; there’s no contest there. 

Umesh Yadav (5/10)

He was expensive as usual, but made crucial breakthroughs when needed. His 4 wickets came at 42 though, and he will surely be replaced onceVarun Aaron or Mohammed Shami is fit. 

Varun Aaron (4/10)

He played just one game, and was fast and inaccurate. His fitness needs some more work, and Ishant desperately needs a permanent partner in tests.