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India’s chance to exorcise a 22 year hoodoo


Virat_Kohli_India_Cricket_captainThe last time India won a series in Sri Lanka was 1993. It has been 22 long years and this series looks like the best chance for India to break their 22 year wait for a series win in Sri Lanka. The first test so far has provided some encouraging signs for India as Ravichandran Ashwin finished with figures of 6-46 in the first innings, the best figures by an Indian bowler in Sri Lanka, and 10-160 in the match, his first 10 wicket haul outside of India. Shikhar Dhawan continued from where he left off in Bangladesh, as he got his second hundred in successive innings before falling for 134. With the in-form Murali Vijay ruled out of the first test due to injury, it was imperative for Dhawan to come good as KL Rahul is playing only his third test.

After India lost two wickets with only 28 runs on the board, Dhawan was joined by his captain Virat Kohli who has been out of form of late and played for India A against Australia A to get some match practice as well as form. Kohli scored 103 as he and Dhawan put up a 227 run partnership for the third wicket; India’s first 200 plus third wicket partnership in Sri Lanka. With India deciding to go in with five bowlers and without a genuine all rounder, the role of Wriddhiman Saha becomes pivotal as he has to bat as high as number six with little batting to follow.

The Indian team is young and inexperienced; a point evidenced by the fact that of the 11 playing in Galle, Harbhajan Singh is the second highest run scorer in test cricket. Hence, Saha’s 60 in the first innings was a pleasing effort as it helped push India’s lead over 150 runs.

His innings was ended when he was adjudged out after the ball pinged off his helmet to the wicket keeper. At the end of day two, India looked well on their way to a victory in Galle with Sri Lanka being reduced to 5-2 in their second innings.

After a brief but productive partnership between Sangakkara and Mathews, Sri Lanka’s best batsmen, Dinesh Chandimal stepped onto scene and never left. While wickets fell around him, he remained unbeaten, ending the 2nd innings stranded on 162* of just 169 balls, having taken Sri Lanka to a lead of 175 from a deficit of 100 runs when he walked in. The third day ended with Rahul getting out ingloriously for another single digit score and Ishant had to play nightwatchman once again.

The ploy of playing five bowlers is a bold and risky move as this Indian team is still very inexperienced and none of the five frontline bowlers can be classified as a genuine all rounder.

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, were shocked by Pakistan recently at home where they struggled to counter the Pakistan spinners on helpful tacks. The retirement of Mahela Jayawardene, probably the best player of spin in the Sri Lanka team, has left a huge void. Kumar Sangakkara is playing his last series against India and will retire after the second test against India.

With no clear successors in line – Sri Lanka have gone back to the likes of Upul Tharanga and Jehan Mubarak in recent times, players who made their debuts more than a decade ago and have failed to capitalise on the opportunities they have been provided in the past – the team will need to rebuild quickly as most of the young players have still not cemented their spots in the team.

Another major issue facing Sri Lanka is the reduced efficacy of Rangana Herath, who has been their premier bowler in the post Murali era. Herath has struggled for penetration this year and has only managed to pick 2 wickets in 3 matches this year at an average of 142.50. By contrast, he picked up 43 wickets in 2014 in 6 matches at an average of 24.23. At home last year, he picked 35 wickets in 4 tests at an average of 19.74. While he has managed to maintain an economy rate below 3, it is the wickets column that has been a major factor in Sri Lanka’s loss at home to Pakistan.     

Sri Lanka’s success at home has been a product of the stranglehold maintained by its spinners and the dexterity of their batsmen while facing spin. With the retirement of Jayawardene and Sangakkara, along with the sharp decline in Herath’s returns, Sri Lanka’s formidable record at home is under threat unless they manage to find quality replacements quickly.

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