It’s been a good month for teams from the sub-continent: India have dominated their opening bouts against West Indies as expected; Pakistan are giving a buoyant England team a real fight in their four-match Test series; and Sri Lanka have ended their losing run with a brilliant series-win against Australia.
India’s dominance against West Indies was predicted by many. We also knew that a potent Pakistan bowling attack could be a real nuisance for England if the visiting team’s batsmen could cobble together enough runs. Sri Lanka, though, have defied predictions with their morale-boosting form against the No. 1 team in the world.
The ICC rankings perhaps hide the fact that Australia have a woeful record in the sub-continent of late, but I still expected them to present far stiffer opposition to a young Sri Lankan team in transition. Instead, the Australian batsmen have been overwhelmed by Sri Lanka’s trio of spinners.
I was thrilled at the way this young team have bounced back after a difficult year. It’s not easy when things are not going your way, but they have shown great character by the manner in which they have come out fighting against Australia. They have shown that they can go forward and develop into a very strong team in home conditions.
In terms of the batting, Kusal Mendis has been the standout performer and a very exciting discovery.
He also impressed in England, showing glimpses of talent and good temperament. It was in the second innings in Kandy that Kusal really announced his international credentials with a match-winning hundred.
What impressed me the most was his temperament, especially the manner in which he was willing to play with controlled aggression. When you are up against an aggressive attack like the one that Australia have, you can’t just avoid focusing on survival. You will get bad balls and you need to make use of those scoring opportunities to put the pressure back on the bowlers. Kusal has done that brilliantly thus far in the series.
In terms of the bowling, I thought Sandakan was very good in the first Test. It’s not easy bowling ‘chinaman’ and performing on debut, but he really made an impression and proved to be an ideal foil to Rangana (Herath).
Dilruwan Perera, meanwhile, bowled beautifully and batted bravely in the Galle Test to show what a top-class all-rounder he has become.
Australia will be very disappointed with the way they have lost their way.
Their batsmen have not been able to handle the pressure imposed by Sri Lanka’s spinners. Their first innings in Kandy was crucial, and on a good pitch, their failure to capitalise there after a great performance by their bowlers was the turning point of the series.
The issue for me is that their top order — like the great Australian top orders of late — needs to bat better in difficult situations. The Aussies have not adapted and adjusted to the conditions. It’s hard to imagine the teams led by Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting playing in the same carefree manner.
In England, Pakistan slumped to a 141-run defeat in the third Test. However, the visitors have shown great spirit and have highlighted the quality of their bowling attack.
The return of Amir has been a big bonus to Pakistan in terms of their pace attack. Their trio of quicks, all very useful bowlers, is backed up well by the leg-spinner, Yasir Shah.
This is an attack that can make a big impression overseas. It helps Pakistan to be competitive if their batting rises to the occasion. And that was always going to be the big question: can they score enough runs against an exceptional England bowling unit?
They did that in the first Test with Misbah leading from the front, and duly won the game. England have come back strongly since, but it’s great to see a close contest.
In the West Indies, we have seen India under new coach Anil Kumble adopt a positive approach with a new 6-5 strategy that gives them extra bowling options.
I thought it was a great move from Anil and Virat and definitely the right way to go if you want to win Test matches consistently.
West Indies, too, was the right place to experiment. The strategy needs Ashwin and Saha to rise to the challenge at No. 6 and No. 7. Kumble will be hoping that they thrive with the new responsibility and he can persist with this bold strategy against stronger opponents later in the year.
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