India packs a wallop

Sreesanth’s menacing spell in Lanka’s first innings won him the Man of the Match Trophy.-K. R. DEEPAK

India posted its biggest victory in terms of runs over Sri Lanka which took the team closer to the No. 1 ranking in the ICC Test ratings. S. Dinakar reports.

India’s 100th Test victory was emphatic. And it was achieved in a manner that was simple and swift. What a change from the drab Test in Ahmedabad!

The Indians batted big in the first innings after winning a crucial toss. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men bundled out Sri Lanka in the first innings and, after the skipper enforced the follow-on, romped home by an innings and 144 runs in the second T est in Kanpur.

This is India’s biggest victory in terms of runs over Sri Lanka and brought the side closer to the No. 1 ranking in the ICC Test ratings.

While much focus was on spin, S. Sreesanth’s first innings spell virtually settled the issue. The paceman, on a comeback, bowled with sustained hostility, swung the ball away from the right-hander, switched his line effectively against the southpaws and achieved reverse swing. He also employed the short-pitched ball to hustle the batsmen.

Sreesanth’s five for 75 in the Sri Lankan first innings was a display of stout heart and skill on a slow sub-continental pitch. Crucially, he put a lid on his emotions.

Sreesanth had been picked ahead of the lacklustre Ishant Sharma for the Test. And his return to Test cricket was stirring.

The Sri Lankans had picked three spinners for the match — Ajantha Mendis replaced the injured Dammika Prasad — and much of their hopes hinged on the toss. Kumar Sangakkara would surely have wanted his spin trio to bowl last on this wicket.

Instead, his spinners were taken to the cleaners by Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir on day one. And a smooth-stroking Rahul Dravid waded into the attack as well.

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir came up with a 233-run partnership for the first wicket.-K. R. DEEPAK

The Sri Lankans had their

Sehwag was reprieved early and the Sri Lankans suffered. “The pacemen created the opportunities in the first session but we could not take them. Then the Indians had the huge first wicket partnership,” said Sangakkara.

The in-form Gambhir (167, 215b, 15x4) notched up his fourth century in successive Tests and his seventh in nine matches. This has been a stunning performance from the left-hander.

His footwork, the ability to use the crease and timing have blended well with greater resolve and a tighter game in the corridor. The mind has been the key in Gambhir’s transformation.

Dhoni backed his men to survive the first session with minimal damage; they could then dominate the proceedings. The plan worked although the Sri Lankan catching was a contributing factor.

Initially, Sehwag (131, 122b, 18x4, 2x6) was circumspect on a surface with a tinge of green — however the grass was dead — leaving deliveries outside off-stump and playing with a straight blade.

Some of Sehwag’s straight-driving was exquisite. Then, he cut loose against the spinners.

Both Mendis and Rangana Herath were not allowed to settle down. Sehwag and Gambhir used their feet to convert the length; even the great Muttiah Muralitharan suffered.

“We were waiting for the spinners to come on,” revealed Sehwag later.

IN GREAT TOUCH. Rahul Dravid acknowledges the cheers of the crowd after his century.-PTI

The 233-run opening partnership between the right-left duo — they consistently left the field scattered — in only 41.2 overs provided the thrust and momentum to the Indian innings. The Sri Lankans were jolted by the pace of the run-scoring.

“Whenever we have had a strong opening partnership, whether in Tests or in the ODIs, we have done well,” said Dhoni later.

Sangakkara said, “the inability of our spinners to send down maidens hurt us. If you look at the first day, only the pacemen bowled maidens. There was no maiden over from a spinner on day one.”

Prasanna Jayawardene is bowled by a beauty from Harbhajan Singh. The ace spinner took three wickets in Sri Lanka's second innings.-K.R. DEEPAK

The Sri Lankans, consequently, could not create any kind of pressure. Indeed, with the serene Dravid reaching an unbeaten 85 almost unnoticed, India was 417 for two at the end of day one. This was the most number of runs scored by India in a single day of a Test.

“Once India got to the 400-plus mark on day one, it was always going to be very hard for us to come back in the Test. We conceded too much ground,” admitted Sangakkara.

The Lankans fought back on day two, but this arrived rather late in the day. Dravid progressed to 144 with sublime stroke-play; some of his back-footed cover drives and the strokes behind point played late were inspiring. V.V.S. Laxman’s pleasing 63 had some majestic cover drives and a couple of typical whips past the mid-wicket fielder.

And Yuvraj Singh, during his innings of 67, unleashed a couple of audacious slog-sweeps off a well-stretched front foot and then struck sweetly between long-off and long-on. The left-hander played the spinners with footwork that was more decisive.

The pitch started changing its character towards lunch on day two. The ball came on slowly with the odd delivery keeping low. Herath got the ball to drift into the right-hander from round the wicket, and mixed the one that turned away with the delivery that skidded through straight. Herath has an interesting grip and uses his fingers in a manner that is unique. His five-wicket haul notwithstanding, India posted 642. This was a huge score given the conditions.

Sri Lanka, under immense pressure, lost Tillekeratne Dilshan to the first ball of the innings when he ballooned a catch off a Zaheer Khan delivery that was way down the leg-side. The Lankans never recovered.

Sreesanth’s spell on the third morning cut all escape routes for the Sri Lankans. The paceman generated speed and swung the ball from around the off-stump. He made the batsmen play and varied his pace. He choked the batsmen and then served up a delivery that was wider.

Senior batsmen Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera perished to inside-edges.

Zaheer Khan, despite running into no-ball problems, maintained the pressure from the other end. He was also creating the rough for off-spinner Harbhajan Singh to exploit.

Harbhajan bowled better in the Test. He bowled an off-stump line and strove to spin the ball into the right-hander. He got the odd ball to straighten and varied his flight and trajectory. He was a threat from round-the-wicket as well, even to the right-hander. Harbhajan angled the ball across the right-hander, spun it in or got the delivery to straighten.

“The Indians bowled well in partnerships. Zaheer supported Sreesanth well and Ojha backed Harbhajan capably,” said Dhoni.

The home team planned its dismissals as well. A well-set Mahela Jayawardene struck debutant Ojha over the fielder at mid-on. Dhoni laid the trap. Tendulkar was moved to a deeper, wider mid-on and when Mahela attempted to go over the top again, the catch was gleefully accepted.

The Sri Lankans, dismissed for 229, were asked to follow on. Soon, Sreesanth snared Dilshan with a perfect away-going delivery that lifted and left the batsman from the off-stump. Wickets fell in a heap. Sri Lanka, four down at stumps, was staring down the barrell.

An error of judgment on Sangakkara’s part — the skipper later admitted this — led to Mahela Jayawardene’s run-out moments before close on day four. Soon, Sangakkara, loose outside the off-stump, dragged a Harbhajan delivery on to the stumps.

Despite resistance in the form of a strokeful, unbeaten 78 from the gifted Samaraweera, India ended Sri Lanka’s resistance between lunch and tea on day four.

Debutant left-armer Ojha turned in a creditable performance on a pitch that was at best a slow turner. Importantly, he bowled with control and made the batsmen work for runs.

“Cricket is a mind game. Once Sri Lanka was dismissed cheaply in the first innings and conceded a lead of over 400, they seemed to have given up mentally,” said Dhoni.

The colourful crowd at Green Park — the packed stadium rooted for the home team — may have lifted the morale of the Indian team.

THE SCORES

First Test, Green Park, Kanpur, November 24 to 27.

Result: India won by an innings and 144 runs.

India—1st Innings: Gautam Gambhir c & b Muralitharan 167; Virender Sehwag c Dilshan b Muralitharan 131; Rahul Dravid (run out) 144; Sachin Tendulkar c Samaraweera b Mendis 40; V.V.S. Laxman c Dilshan b Herath 63; Yuvraj Singh c Sangakkara b Mendis 67; Mahendra Singh Dhoni b Herath 4; Harbhajan Singh b Herath 5: Zaheer Khan c Mahela Jayawardene b Herath 1; S. Sreesanth lbw b Herath 0: Pragyan Ojha (not out) 1; Extras: (b-4, lb-11, nb-4) 19; Total 642.

Fall of wickets: 1-233, 2-370, 3-464, 4-511, 5-613, 6-619, 7-639, 8-641, 9-641.

Sri Lanka bowling: Chanaka Welegedara 26-4-103-0, Angelo Mathews 17-2-49-0, Rangana Herath 33-2-121-5, Ajantha Mendis 38-3-162-2, Muttiah Muralitharan 37-0-175-2, Tillakaratne Dilshan 3-0-17-0.

Sri Lanka—first innings: Tillakaratne Dilshan c Ojha b Zaheer Khan 0; Tharanga Paranavitana c Dhoni b Sreesanth 38; Kumar Sangakkara b Sreesanth 44; Mahela Jayawardene c Tendulkar b Ojha 47; Thilan Samaraweera b Sreesanth 2; Angelo Mathews b Harbhajan Singh 13; Prasanna Jayawardene c Dhoni b Sreesanth 39; Rangana Herath b Sreesanth 11; Muttiah Muralitharan lbw b Ojha 6; Chanaka Welegedara lbw b Harbhajan Singh 7; Ajantha Mendis (not out) 6; Extras (b-9, lb-2, nb-5) 16; Total 229.

Fall of wickets: 1-0. 2-82, 3-101, 4-111, 5-134, 6-194, 7-204,8-216, 9-219.

India bowling: Zaheer Khan 17-5-51-1, S. Sreesanth 22-4-75-5, Harbhajan Singh 21-5-54-2, Pragyan Ojha 23-12-37-2, Yuvraj Singh 1-0-1-0.

Sri Lanka—2nd innings: Tharanga Paranavitana lbw b Sehwag 20; Tillakaratne Dilshan c Dhoni b Sreesanth 11; Kumar Sangakkara b Harbhajan Singh 11; Mahela Jayawardene (run out) 10; Thilan Samaraweera (not out) 78; Anjelo Mathews c Dravid b Zaheer Khan 15; Prasanna Jayawardene b Harbhajan Singh 29; Rangana Herath lbw b Harbhajan Singh 13; Muttiah Muralitharan b Ojha 29; Ajantha Mendis lbw b Yuvraj Singh 27; Chanaka Welegedara c & b Ojha 4; Extras: (b-7, lb-1, nb-14) 22; Total 269.

Fall of wickets: 1-13, 2-37, 3-54, 4-54, 5-79, 6-140, 7-154, 8-191, 9-264.

India bowling: Zaheer Khan 11-0-63-1, Sreesanth 11-4-47-1, Harbhajan Singh 22-2-98-3, Virender Sehwag 3-0-4-1, Pragyan Ojha 15.3-4-36-2, Sachin Tendulkar 1-0-6-0, Yuvraj Singh 2-0-7-1.