Lanka spun, drawn and quartered

INDIA played smart cricket and outplayed Sri Lanka to win the Videocon Test series by a handsome margin on a not-so-pit-like-pitch at the Motera Stadium.


Team India is all smiles after winning the Test series against Sri Lanka 2-0.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

INDIA played smart cricket and outplayed Sri Lanka to win the Videocon Test series by a handsome margin on a not-so-pit-like-pitch at the Motera Stadium. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh's match-haul of 10 for 141 helped him win the Man of the Match award, for which he was rewarded with a trophy, cash award and a television set. Leg-spinner Anil Kumble took 20 wickets in the series and was declared the `Man of the Series' — he took home a trophy and a plasma TV set.

V. V. S. Laxman was stout hearted in defence and delectable in stroke production during his near seven-hour 104 in the first innings. Rising stars Irfan Pathan, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh completed a mission that made the life of coach Greg Chappell and the support staff very easy. The tail wagged as well, which brought to the fore the old saying that bowlers nurse an ambition to thump their counterparts. Ajit Agarkar, not at all a rabbit, Harbhajan and Kumble spent purposeful time in the middle.

After the three previous Tests at the venue, featuring India against New Zealand and England, produced no results, a Test match that finished well inside the first hour on the fifth day was a welcome change. Rahul Dravid, named Indian captain till the home series against England, was not present to share the happy moments of his Karnataka colleague Kumble, playing his 100th Test match, or to receive the winner's trophy. He had flown home on the fourth day evening after spending three days in a local hospital following a viral attack, which the doctors diagnosed as gastroenteritis.

Spin twins Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh pose with their man of the series and man of the match trophies.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The mantle of captaincy fell on Virender Sehwag. At the post-match press conference, a poker-faced Sehwag made a point-blank retort saying his team's primary aim was to play well and achieve consistent results and not fall head-over-heels in climbing to the No. 2 spot in ICC's Test match rankings. But, the acting captain did not enjoy a particularly good outing in the middle, falling to speedster Lasith Malinga in both the innings. Malinga, 22, who was forced to cool his heels in the rain-devastated first Test in Chennai and who was given the duty of carrying drinks at the Kotla, stripped the reputation of the `Delhi Dazzler', castling his citadel in the first innings with sheer speed and a little inward tilt.

In the second innings, Sehwag's dismissal off the first ball he faced was his own making. After asking Pakistan's ICC Elite Panel Umpire Nadeem Ghouri to hide his necktie behind his right shoulder, Sehwag attempted to cut a high bouncer pitched outside the off stump. The slash fell into the hands of Farveez Maharoof at third man.

When asked about his poor run with the bat, Sehwag, without a trace of grimace, said: "I am in good nick. It's just that I am not able to convert the 20s and the 30s into big scores." This was a few minutes before he made a sweeping statement at the same press conference that Pakistan's batsmen are not equipped with the technique to negotiate seam, swing and fast bowling. This, just 10 days after being unable to speak, a throat infection necessitating a day's rest at Delhi's Gangaram Hospital. He was in full form though at the press conference in Ahmedabad, praising the batsmen and bowlers and stressing that Yuvraj Singh has scored runs and deserves a place in Tests.

V.V.S. Laxman's ton held the Indian first innings together.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Leading the Indian team was not new to Sehwag — he has done it on a couple of occasions in the past. He deployed his resources well enough and with a fair bit of intelligence. His decision to bring back Agarkar when Mahela Jayawardene and Tillekaratne Dilshan had put on a 100-plus stand in the second innings was a timely move. Bowling with the old ball, the wiry Agarkar provided the crucial breakthrough by dismissing Jayawardene. Sehwag's field placements too appeared to be in tune with the demands of the situation when Kumble and Harbhajan were on the job.

India had batting hiccups in both innings — 97 for 5 in the first innings and 100 for 5 in the second. But, in the end, the team posted totals of 398 and 316 for 9 declared. Laxman took charge and the others rallied around him on the first and second days. Once he read the pitch and the bowling, Laxman stayed put for 401 minutes and faced 237 balls, building partnerships of 86 with Dhoni and 125 with Pathan. He left the scene with a ninth Test century under his belt, bowled by Maharoof operating with the second new ball.

Sri Lanka folded up for 206 in the first innings, thanks to Harbhajan's controlled off spin and excellent support from the close-in fielders. He picked up three more in the second innings for his fourth ten-wicket haul of his career. His bowling partner, Kumble, made it a memorable 100th Test, capturing five wickets in the second innings (31st such instance in his Test career).

India began the second innings 192 ahead and added 316 to the lead, thanks to Yuvraj Singh's typically attacking innings of 75. The eighth and ninth wicket pairs made merry and added 118 runs. Eventually, the home team all but closed out the match leaving a fourth innings target of 509 on a pitch that had far from crumbled, but offered the spinners hope from day one. Muttiah Muralitharan opened the bowling with Malinga in the second innings and Harbhajan followed suit for India. The home team was a clear winner in their last Test of 2005.

Ganguly is back

SOURAV GANGULY has been included in the Indian squad for the Test series against Pakistan, starting from January 14. The selectors also recalled Zaheer Khan, the left-arm seamer, after a three-month absence.

The team:

Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V. V. S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Parthiv Patel (wk), Rudra Pratap Singh, Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble.