Rat-a-tat goes Virat

The India-Sri Lanka one-day series failed to capture the imagination of the cricket world. But for Virat Kohli, it could well have been a forgettable one, writes Vijay Lokapally.

The sparse attendance said it all. Signs of times to come! Too much of cricket reflected in the lack of spectator interest in the India-Sri Lanka one-day series even as the world was glued to the Olympics in London. True, India was involved in an international competition after a rare rest of two months, but the Sri Lankans had figured in Test and one-day series against both England and Pakistan at home.

At the back of their minds, the Sri Lankans knew they had not won a one-day series against India at home in 15 years. The drive to win was overshadowed by the lack of effort in the field as Sri Lanka came up with a shoddy show after winning the second match in style. “Against the Indian batting line-up, you can’t drop that many catches,” Angelo Mathews had summed up really well.

The series belonged to Virat Kohli. The elevation to vice-captaincy obviously gave him the pep to be dominant. Growing in strength with every contest, the Delhi cricketer established himself firmly as one of the most trusted players to look forward to. His amazing form was the brightest part of the series as India prospered from his batting exploits.

Eight centuries in his last 28 ODI innings, five in his last 10, showed the progress made by Kohli as a frontline batsman. He had been largely instrumental in giving the middle order the consistency it had wanted and thus this flamboyant strokeplayer was also able to justify the selectors’ faith in him. He is seen as a future leader and Kohli has, of late, made a conscious effort to shed his image of a brash youngster.

With two brilliant centuries in the series against Sri Lanka, Kohli demonstrated his penchant to make the most of his good form. The pitches had been placid but then he had to be on guard since the series was seen as a platform to judge the strength and form of some key players for the coming season. The series may have lacked the competitive zeal at various points but as far as Kohli was concerned he utilised it to the utmost to state his case.

In contrast, Rohit Sharma came to grief with a dismal run of 5, 0, 0, 4 and 4. The support from Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the only factor that went in his favour as the Mumbai batsman failed to learn from mistakes. He was a mere shadow of the gifted batsman that he is.

Gautam Gambhir sprang to Rohit Sharma’s defence with a strong statement. “Anyone can get out. I still believe that Rohit Sharma is the best talent India has ever had. Let’s not talk about individuals, let’s not put the blame that Rohit is not doing well. When the team is doing well we need to support people who are not doing well. Everyone should back him because I see him scoring a lot of runs in the future and he could be one of the great players of Indian cricket.”

No player in Indian cricket would have been rated higher than Rohit and given as many chances despite repeated failures. V. V. S. Laxman had been axed by the selectors even at a time when the exciting strokeplayer deserved better treatment and Mohammad Kaif was shown the door from the ODI scheme of things when he was just 25. Rohit is also 25 and 85 ODI matches old, but continues to be a “hope” for the country.

Rohit was thus an embarrassment for the selectors and the captain, but Gambhir helped himself to a couple of good knocks as India made the most of a lacklustre Sri Lankan attack. The second match, however, exposed India’s inconsistency. India began by compiling 314 in the opener at Hambantota, thanks to Kohli’s 106 and Virender Sehwag’s 96, but crashed to 138 at the same venue in the next match.

Gambhir’s century laid the base in the third match, but a crucial mistake saw Sri Lanka concede the fight from a strong position. With India needing 65 off 44 balls, substitute Sachithra Senanayake dropped Suresh Raina when the batsman was 19. Raina ended up making an unbeaten 65 to swing the match India’s way. At various stages in the series, Sri Lanka was guilty of such lapses. The fourth match saw Kohli dominate with a controlled century, his 13th in ODIs.

One of the gains for India came in the shape of Irfan Pathan, who made the tour only because of a last-minute injury to R. Vinay Kumar. The captain was happy with Pathan’s performance and Manoj Tiwary grabbed his chance to live up to his promise. The series, however, failed to catch the imagination of the cricket world. But for Kohli, it could well have been a forgettable one.