A perfect start to the tour

All of India's cogs clicked, every cricketer played his part — be it scoring runs, effecting dismissals, snapping catches or triggering a run-out.

Virat Kohli's men, against a weak Sri Lankan side, put on a commanding display at Galle in the first Test.   -  AP

India’s thumping 304-run win over Sri Lanka in the opening Test of the three-match series, with a day to spare here on Saturday, was an emphatic statement about overall supremacy. All its cogs clicked, every cricketer played his part — be it scoring runs, effecting dismissals, snapping catches or triggering a run-out.

READ: Spinners apply finishing touches as India goes 1-0 up

The focus was finally on the game, a marked contrast to the wretched month before this triumph when there was confusion around the head coach’s position.

It led to the earlier occupant of the seat, Anil Kumble, leaving with his dignity intact, while captain Virat Kohli had his way and former team director Ravi Shastri stepped in as head coach. Unlike the previous seasons, the lead-up to the current one was all about the suspicion of probable dirty linen inside the dressing room. That unfortunate phase is hopefully over.

Kohli’s men, with their commanding display over four days at the Galle International Stadium, finally drew the arc lights onto what transpires when a hard red ball thuds into a piece of chiselled willow, which is what the game is about.

 

But before we rush into another coronation of the No. 1 Test team in the world, it will also be prudent to understand that Sri Lanka, ranked seventh, is no longer the force that it once was at home when it had Muttiah Muralitharan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.

Fitness troubles for the host

Even after accounting for the flux that a change of guard unleashes, the vagaries of health and fitness that plagued the men from the Emerald Isle over the last week leads to a philosophical introspection of vague terms like destiny.

Sample this, the host’s latest playing XI did not have regular skipper and gutsy batsman Dinesh Chandimal who was ruled out with pneumonia. To make it worse, batsman Asela Gunaratne fractured his left thumb during the opening day and played no further part. The walking-wounded included stand-in skipper Rangana Herath, who bruised his left hand’s middle finger and could not bat during the Sri Lankan second innings. The left-arm spinner bowled a mere nine overs during India’s second dig.

To put it in perspective, India had to wrest just 17 wickets and not the usual 20, to pocket the Test. The visiting team, too, had its share of health concerns as opener K. L. Rahul, recovering from a viral fever, stepped aside. Despite all this, Kohli would be happy.

READ: Good to get back into the groove, says Kohli after Galle win

The new pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund, while playing out a familiar trope dished out by recent Indian opening combines — the near-absence of 100-run partnerships — individually shone.

Dhawan slammed a 190 in the first innings and Abhinav etched an 81 in the second. The reliable Cheteshwar Pujara struck a hundred and Kohli, who had slipped in Tests by his exalted standards, partially found his mojo with a century.

READ: Pujara's special half-century

Pandya in fine nick

Debutant Hardik Pandya, part of the ‘find-the-next-Kapil-Dev-project’ in vogue since the great all-rounder hobbled into retirement in 1994, hit a fifty and nailed a wicket. Kohli said that Pandya could well be India’s Ben Stokes.

The sobering truth is that men as diverse as Laxmi Ratan Shukla in ODIs and Ajit Agarkar, Irfan Pathan and Stuart Binny, all in Tests, have been pigeon-holed into the all-rounder slot and they found it to be a soul-sapping struggle. Pandya, the latest in that group, has Kohli’s backing. If he fires, it will help the skipper stick to his five-batsmen theory.

As the leader, Kohli could not have asked for more. The batsmen prospered and the bowlers got wickets and also contributed crucial lower-order runs like, for instance, R. Ashwin who chipped in with a 47 in his 50th Test.

There was the irritating headache of No. 7 Dilruwan Perera scoring an unbeaten 92, part of another weakness that afflicts India in which the opposition’s tail often wags.

Kohli said that it is a deficiency that the team intends to rectify in the next two Tests in Colombo and Pallekele. Before that, there is time to relish the perfect start.