Batsmen ride roughshod over bowlers

Stupendous effort... Mahela Jayawardene with the Man of the Match trophy. He is applauded by the Sri Lankan skipper Kumar Sangakkara (right). India’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni is also in the picture.-K. R. DEEPAK Stupendous effort... Mahela Jayawardene with the Man of the Match trophy. He is applauded by the Sri Lankan skipper Kumar Sangakkara (right). India’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni is also in the picture.

At a time when Test cricket in India faces a severe challenge, tracks such as the one at Motera undermine the very concept of the format, writes S. Dinakar.

The wicket at Motera came under intense scrutiny after the first Test meandered to a tame draw. The batsmen called the shots even on the final day. In all, seven centuries were scored and only 21 wickets fell in the first of the three-Test series between India and Sri Lanka. There were occasions — even on the last day when the surface’s natural wear and tear should have assisted the spinners — when the bowlers seemed to be mere fodder for the batsmen.

At a time when Test cricket in India — the game’s longest format is healthier in some of the other parts of the world — faces a severe challenge, tracks such as the one at Motera undermine the very concept of the format. Barring the first hour of the match when there was some lateral movement for the pace bowlers, the odds were heavily loaded in favour of the batsmen.

The BCCI insists it is keen on preparing sporting tracks at home. Surfaces with good, consistent bounce, which enable the batsmen to play strokes, encourage pacemen willing to put in the effort and assist spinners gradually due to the natural wear and tear, will enhance Test cricket.

But despite the Board’s assurances, Test cricket is being undermined in India. There appears to be greater focus on the shorter, money-spinning forms of the game.

As it is, India is hardly playing enough Test cricket. The Ahmedabad Test against Sri Lanka was India’s first after the match against New Zealand in Wellington in April this year.

The legendary spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan, the most successful bowler in Tests and ODIs, made some strong statements ahead of the game. “The sponsors and the television companies are putting pressure on the Boards to prepare flat tracks for Test cricket,” he said. “They want the match to go on till the final session on the last day. It is only natural that you would come across placid tracks. The green-tops and the turning tracks that I saw even in the 90s have largely disappeared.”

Prasanna Jayawardene.-

Muralitharan appeared resigned to his fate as a bowler in the current phase. “Bowling is a labour class job. Batting is officer class. Even the crowds come to watch sixes and fours. And all the rules favour batsmen.”

The Lankan was also miffed that the system of referring leg-before appeals to the third umpire — each side was to be allowed only two unsuccessful referrals in an innings — was shelved for the series due to a variety of reasons, ranging from the question of who would foot the bill for the expensive hot-spot technology to the alleged apprehensions of some of the home batsmen.

The absence of referrals meant that the batsmen could use their front pad as a defensive option without the danger of a leg-before appeal going to the third umpire.

Perhaps Muralitharan had an inkling of things to come in the Test. The off-spinning wizard went wicketless in the second innings as India, which had conceded a massive 334-run lead, made 412 for four when the match ended.

While the surface remained a sleeping beauty, a measure of credit is due to the Indian batsmen for the manner in which they batted in a pressure situation. Opener Gautam Gambhir (114, 230b, 13x4), maestro Sachin Tendulkar (100 not out, 211b, 11x4) and V.V.S. Laxman (51 not out, 160b, 5x4) batted with composure and heart. The Indian batsmen did not panic when they could have easily succumbed to rash or ordinary shots under stress.

Just five days after his 20-years-for-India celebrations, Tendulkar reached another landmark in a career of miles and milestones. He became the first batsman to get to 30,000 runs in international cricket. Not long after the legendary Indian batsman notched up his 43rd Test hundred. Tendulkar’s balance and timing continue to captivate. Laxman was easy on the eye with his pleasing stroke-play and India comfortably drew the Test on the final day.

Tillekaratne Dilshan.-PTI

Earlier, Sri Lanka had declared at 760 for seven, the highest Test total on Indian soil. Even if the surface was placid in nature, the Indian bowlers disappointed. They showed a distinct lack of accuracy and control, so essential on a track such as the one in Motera. The Indians could not get their tactics right. The pacemen did not threaten with air speed — the pitch does not matter if the batsman can be beaten by sheer pace — and the spinners did not display flight and dip.

Nor could the Indian bowlers create the pressure by denying the batsmen easy runs by bowling a largely defensive line. Worse, they did not bowl to their field. The spin bowling — Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra paired up — was particularly disappointing. Dhoni’s captaincy did not help the bowlers’ cause either. The field was set deep and the Sri Lankan batsmen were able to pick up singles at will. Test cricket — on any wicket — is a lot about creating pressure by denying the batsmen runs.

For instance, there were only 11 boundaries in Prasanna Jayawardene’s unbeaten 154; the wicketkeeper-batsman manipulated the bowling by playing the ball into the generous open spaces for most part.

While Prasanna was a revelation, it was the other Jayawardene, the classy Mahela, who was adjudged the Man of the Match. His marathon 275 (435b, 27x4, 1x6, 1x5) is the highest Test score by a visiting batsman in India. And the 351-run partnership between Mahela and Prasanna is the highest sixth-wicket association in Test cricket, beating the 346-run stand between Don Bradman and Jack Fingleton against England in Melbourne in 1937.

Mahela concentrated hard and was decisive in the use of his feet. And he has this instinctive ability to find the gaps. He no more than eased the ball into the open spaces, the sheer timing sending it past the ropes. Much of his cover-driving made for lovely viewing. He also played beautifully off the back-foot in the region between point and third-man. His 27th Test hundred oozed class. Three delectable boundaries in a Zaheer Khan over — a straight-drive, a flick and a cover-drive — reflected Mahela’s shot-making ability.

Earlier, Tillekeratne Dilshan (112, 133, 12x4), revelling in the role of a Test opener, came up with a mature hundred. While he put away the loose balls ruthlessly, Dilshan batted with a lot of common sense. And Thilan Samaraweera made a strokeful 70 before he was well held at square-leg by a leaping Yuvraj Singh off Ishant Sharma.

Rahul Dravid who scored a doughty century in the first innings.-AP

Things had been very different on the first morning — India slumped to 32 for four — when Rahul Dravid proved hard to break. Technically correct and batting with wonderful fluency, Dravid (177, 261b, 26x4, 1x6) became only the fifth batsman — Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting and Allan Border had achieved the feat earlier — to reach 11,000 runs in Test cricket. It was an epic innings.

India found its innings in a mess after electing to bat. Left-arm paceman Chanaka Welegedara, bowling a full length from over-the-wicket and getting the ball to deviate into the right-hander or away from the southpaw, scalped three batsmen in a deadly opening burst.

While Dravid was solid, Dhoni batted intelligently for a 159-ball 110. While there were some typically heavy hits in the Indian captain’s effort, he also pushed and jabbed the ball for singles and twos. The sixth-wicket pair of Dravid and Dhoni added 224 runs in 306 balls.

Earlier, the left-handed Yuvraj Singh batted with freedom and inventiveness for a valuable 68 (93b, 13x4). In a partnership that put India back on track, Dravid and Yuvraj put on 125 vital runs for the fifth wicket in 173 balls.

Welegedara, playing in only his second Test, had been impressive as he harried the Indian line-up with his control, length and two-way movement. The left-armer added a fourth wicket to his tally on the second morning when he got Dravid to play on by inducing him to drive a fuller length ball that came in a shade.

Dammika Prasad worked up telling speeds on occasions. And left-arm-spinner Rangana Herath, picked ahead of Ajantha Mendis, was steady.

The Test, though, was bound to end in a draw. THE SCORES

India-Sri Lanka 1st Test, Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera, Ahmedabad, November 16-20, 2009.

Result: Match drawn.

India — 1st innings: G. Gambhir b Welegedara 1, V. Sehwag lbw b Welegedara 16, R. Dravid b Welegedara 177, S. R. Tendulkar b Welegedara 4, V. V. S. Laxman b Prasad 0, Yuvraj Singh c Dilshan b Muralitharan 68, M. S. Dhoni c P. Jayawardene b Prasad 110, Harbhajan Singh b Muralitharan 22, Z. Khan lbw b Herath 12, A. Mishra (not out) 7, I. Sharma st P. Jayawardene b Muralitharan 0, Extras (b-2, lb-2, w-1, nb-4) 9. Total: 426.

Fall of wickets: 1-14, 2-27, 3-31, 4-32, 5-157, 6-381, 7-389, 8-414, 9-426.

Sri Lanka bowling: Welegedara 22-4-87-4, Prasad 22-1-106-2, Mathews 12-1-50-0, Muralitharan 25.5-4-97-3, Herath 22-2-79-1, Dilshan 1-0-3-0.

Sri Lanka — 1st innings: T. M. Dilshan c Dravid b Khan 112, N. T. Paranavitana c Dhoni b Sharma 35, K. C. Sangakkara c Tendulkar b Khan 31, D. P. M. D. Jayawardene b Mishra 275, T. T. Samaraweera c Yuvraj Singh b Sharma 70, A. D. Mathews c Gambhir b Harbhajan Singh 17, H. A. P. W. Jayawardene (not out) 154, K. T. G. D. Prasad c Mishra b Harbhajan Singh 21, Extras (b-5, lb-16, w-4, nb-20) 45. Total (for 7 wkts decl) 760.

Fall of wickets: 1-74, 2-189, 3-194, 4-332, 5-375, 6-726, 7-760.

India bowling: Zaheer Khan 36-6-109-2, I. Sharma 33-0-135-2, Harbhajan Singh 48.4-4-189-2, Mishra 58-6-203-1, Yuvraj Singh 16-1-64-0, Tendulkar 7-0-20-0, Sehwag 4-1-19-0.

India — 2nd innings: G. Gambhir c Prasad b Herath 114, V. Sehwag c Mathews b Herath 51, R. Dravid lbw b Welegedara 38, A. Mishra c Dilshan b Mathews 24, S. R. Tendulkar (not out) 100, V. V. S. Laxman (not out) 51, Extras (b-12, lb-9, w-2, nb-11) 34. Total (for 4 wkts) 412.

Fall of wickets: 1-81, 2-169, 3-209, 4-275.

Sri Lanka bowling: Welegedara 21-1-76-1, Prasad 13-0-56-0, Herath 40-6-97-2, Muralitharan 38-6-124-0, Mathews 15-6-29-1, Dilshan 1-0-2-0, Paranavitana 1-0-7-0.