After dominating the first three days, Virat Kohli & Co get caught in a web of spin to lose by 63 runs on Day 4 of the first Test versus Sri Lanka at Galle, writes former Test opener Aakash Chopra
Galle: How often do you see the team that has lost every single session for two days ending up winning the Test match? Not often and that’s for a reason. Test cricket is all about winning sessions and if you’re able to stitch six good sessions together, you’d undoubtedly be in the driver’s seat.
Test cricket gives you the allowance of three to four poor sessions but if you lose more than that, it takes a Herculean effort to claw your way back in. India were in that position at the end of the second day at Galle. After bundling out Sri Lanka for 183 in the first innings, putting 375 in their innings and then removing both openers in the last session of the second day meant that it was only a matter of when and not if India would start the Sri Lankan tour with a win.
India’s Rohit Sharma looks back to see his furniture disturbed after Sri Lankan spinner Rangana Herath beat him in the opening Test match at Galle on Saturday. The Mumbai-based batsman scored 4. PIC: AP/PTI
Once they were reduced to 92-5 in the second innings it seemed that Sri Lanka’s fate was sealed, and it would’ve been if Chandimal hadn’t played one of the best counterattacking Test innings of all time. He swept his way out of trouble and brought respectability to the proceedings, for it’s only fair for Sri Lanka to put up a fight. Their fortunes at home have plummeted recently but not so much to throw in the towel without a fight. Yes, Chandimal’s heroics saved Sri Lanka the blushes but still the total of 176 was unlikely to trouble the Indians, or so we thought. In the first innings, Sri Lanka’s spin duo was neutralised quite nicely during the 227-run Dhawan-Kohli partnership and that led everyone to believe that India would head to Colombo with the scoreline reading 1-0 in their favour.
What should have been an easy win for the Indian team turned out to be one of the most dramatic turnarounds in Test match history! The Indians started Day Four with a lot of caution; perhaps, a little more than was actually required. Shikhar Dhawan didn’t score a run for the first 35 balls he faced and that allowed Sri Lanka to assume control.
There’s a saying in sport that if you aren’t moving forward, you’re going backwards, for there’s no such thing as maintaining status quo in sport. Ishant Sharma’s departure brought Rohit Sharma to the crease and, unfortunately, that’s not a reassuring sight in Test cricket of late. Herath accounted for Ishant with a straighter one and foxed Rohit with the one that spun a little. Rohit was anticipating the ball to come back in with the arm and hence planted his front foot down the pitch instead of going across and paid the price.
Rohit Sharma walks back after being out for four on Day 4 of the first Test vs Sri Lanka on Saturday. PIC/AFP
While there’s merit in protecting your front pad but the better option would’ve been to go slightly across and play in the front of the pads instead of playing besides them. It’ll be interesting to see how long Rohit will be able to hold on to his spot in the side.
Once Dhawan and Kohli departed, the writing was on the wall. Rahane fought, as he always does, but it was never going to be enough. The flip side to India’s five-bowler tactic is that there’s no room for a batting collapse.
What’s more worrying is that a country that boasts of producing some of the finest batsmen against spinners is failing the examination by spin time and again. Mooen Ali in England, Lyon in Australia and Herath in Sri Lanka.
None of the Indian batsmen stepped out or employed the sweep to throw the spinners off their game. It’s quite frustrating to see spinners winning matches against and not for India. It won’t be grossly unfair to say that Indians ‘used to be’ good players of spin, and this must hurt.