Counting India’s gains from the Sri Lanka series
As a long-standing admirer of Sri Lankan cricket, their prolonged mediocrity on the recent tour became painful to watch. There was little evidence of the subtle skills and stout-hearted resolve that has typified the Lankans in the past three-four decades.
True, they are in the process of rebuilding. True too that India were on a roll, especially playing at home. But the Lankans simply lacked self-belief. Almost every match seemed lost before it had begun.
In such a one-sided scenario, the achievements of the winning side can be glossed over. But that would belittle India’s winning streak. At the international level, every match is important and has to be won not just by intent, but due diligence.
This requires sustained aggression, focus and commitment, which India have shown in abundance in the past couple of years. If Sri Lanka appeared so poor, it is because India were unrelenting in pursuit of victory—an alternative viewpoint that carries substantial weight too.
With almost every player making hay, what were the big gains for India from this series? Who are those few who can redefine the landscape of Indian cricket in the short and medium terms?
Top of my list is Rohit Sharma. He was in “six-smashing” form in the One Day Internationals (scoring his third double century) and Twenty20s (T20s; maiden century), but the most significant was the unbeaten ton in the Tests preceding the limited-overs contests.
For all his undoubted talent, Sharma has been an enigma in the five-day format. Despite making centuries in his first two games, his appearances in Tests have been staccato. Somehow, it appeared he hadn’t been able to make the mental adjustment needed for the longest format.
He was included in the playing eleven against Lanka essentially because the team management was preparing for the series against South Africa, which starts next week. India will likely play six specialist batsmen there against fiery fast bowlers on pacy, bouncy pitches.
Success against Lanka could possibly earn Sharma a place in the playing XI straightaway, at least in the first two Tests against South Africa. But given the competition for places, this puts him under harsh scrutiny too. If he doesn’t make it count now, Sharma might find himself consigned to being a limited-overs specialist.
Spin twins Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have been hugely impressive ever since they displaced R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja as front-line spinners in limited-overs matches. This was a huge task, but the two youngsters have gone about it with aplomb. In tandem, they have not merely picked up wickets aplenty, but, more importantly, have done this when it was most needed. Several matches have been won after Yadav, Chahal or both have made a vital breakthrough and precipitated a collapse.
The confidence shown by the team management has encouraged them to bowl aggressively at all times. Even if they have sometimes been hit for runs, they’ve not been afraid to flight the ball. More pertinently, they’ve been honing their skills consistently.
Though they have contrasting styles—Yadav, left-arm spin and chinaman, Chahal, orthodox leg-break—the pair has a couple of things in common. They are canny readers of the game and the minds of batsmen and relish the hunt for wickets.
Either one would have been extremely close to being on the flight to South Africa for the Tests. India picked only two spinners (Ashwin and Jadeja), laying greater emphasis on pace this time, and justifiably so. But Yadav-Chahal are pushing really hard for Test inclusion.
Jaydev Unadkat’s success in T20s has revived a career that looked lost. After a few years in the wilderness, he was somewhat of a surprise selection—at least for those who hadn’t been following his progress in domestic cricket.
Unadkat has come back with skill, pace and control enhanced. While four wickets in three matches don’t quite suggest devastating bowling, he was, in fact, hugely impressive. The economy rate was miserly and potential wicket-taking deliveries aplenty. As a left-arm bowler, Unadkat offers variety in the pace attack that would be invaluable. Indeed, had he returned earlier and there was greater evidence of his form, he might well have been headed for South Africa. But he has re-emerged as a splendid option for the selectors and team management to keep track of.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
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