Ticking all the boxes

With diverse heroes executing a brand of cricket that was alluring, India ensured its first overseas Test series whitewash.

All members of India’s strong batting line-up flourished in Sri Lanka.   -  AP

Across the seas, India was supposed to suffer from timidity. It wasn’t a stereotype but a reality evident from defeats abroad since its Test debut at Lord’s in 1932. The tide turned since the 1970s and when Virat Kohli’s men won the Test series in Sri Lanka at 3-0, it proved to be a fresh milestone. The latest result was the first time that an Indian squad has swept a series once it got past the immigration counters in foreign airports.

Grappling with transition worries and injury woes, Sri Lanka is no longer a tough opposition. Yet, India deserves credit for dishing out a brand of cricket that was alluring. Interestingly, India’s dominant journey in Tests commenced during the 2015 tour of Sri Lanka. That outing was wrested at 2-1 and subsequently India played 24 Tests, including the one that concluded here on Monday, and won 18 and lost just a solitary game.

Through the Tests at Galle, Colombo and here, Kohli found diverse heroes. Shikhar Dhawan was keen to join his family in Australia when he got a call from the selectors following Murali Vijay’s sore wrist. The southpaw rewarded the faith with a chart-topping 358 inclusive of two hundreds and bagged the ‘Man of the Series’ award.

The rest of the batting unit flourished with K.L. Rahul striking fifties at will and Cheteshwar Pujara (two tons), Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane (one century each) finding their three-figure marks. Critically the lower-order lent the turbo-charge with R. Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya contributing handsomely. There was no respite for Sri Lanka as India racked up 640, 240 for three declared, 622 for nine declared and 487.

Potent Pandya

Pandya proved to be the find of the tour. He batted with abandon while still being clued into the team’s needs, bowled with vigour and continued to be Kohli’s ‘gun’ fielder in the outfield. Pandya’s 96-ball 108 at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium was the final knockout that deflated Dinesh Chandimal’s men.

Hardik Pandya was the find of the tour for India. Photo: AP

 

The bowling hit the high notes through Ashwin (17 wickets), Jadeja (13) and Mohammed Shami (10). When Jadeja got suspended from the third Test, chinaman Kuldeep Yadav stepped in and got five wickets and it spoke volumes about the team's rich resources. Umesh Yadav and Pandya too got vital breakthroughs. Except for that phase in Colombo’s Sinhalese Sports Club when Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Mendis prospered, the visitor’s attack remained potent.

Overcoming challenges

Hearteningly, Kohli and company sought to test themselves in different match-situations. Twice the follow-on was enforced and victories were registered and the India captain explained his rationale: “In the last game, we enforced the follow-on but we did not execute the things that we wanted to do to the best of our abilities. Plus the opposition played well. This time (at Pallekele) we took it as an opportunity, we decided to treat this as day five of a series-defining Test on an away tour where we will have to get an opposition out within 60-70 overs. So we keep finding different situations and scenarios where we can challenge ourselves as a team first before we look at the opposition."

The No. 1 Test side has proved its credentials but it isn’t utopia still. Though Saha, Pujara and Abhinav Mukund plucked some stunners, close-in catching remains a concern. Over the last two years, the results have been spectacular but a fact should be acknowledged - India largely played at home and when it toured, the visits were restricted to the West Indies and Sri Lanka, two countries that have suffered an enormous slump in form.

India has to assert itself on tougher tours be it South Africa or England. It is a stirring thought to have in the aftermath of India’s Independence Day which Kohli and his men celebrated by hoisting the Tricolour and singing the national anthem at the team hotel.