Colombo: The first hour of play on Day Four and Day Five, and the stark difference between the approach of two captains during that time told us everything there was to know about this Test match's result.
Angelo Mathews celebrates his century yesterday. Pic/AFP
India started the penultimate day reeling at 21 for 3 and the lead of 111 didn't look good enough to force a result in India's favour, for another couple of wickets would have sealed the deal for Sri Lanka. That's when Mathews introduced spin and therefore loosened the grip on the match.
Spin from one end allowed the Indians to breathe easy and that mistake proved fatal. On the other hand, Kohli persisted with pace from both ends on the last day and the relentless pressure eventually broke the camel's back. It's not that the Indian seam bowlers ran through the Sri Lankan batting in the first session, but their approach was flawless, and at times like these the approach decides the outcome.
Even while there was a partnership developing between Mathews and Perera it was heartening to see that Kohli and Co not losing the plot. The grass on this pitch and the new Kookaburra ball was a heady concoction and all you had to do was to wait for them to get together at the end of the 80th over. That's what the Indian team did and the series fell straight into their laps. It took only a few balls with the new ball to end Mathews' long vigil and once he was back in the hut, it was only a matter of when and not if the Indian team would win the series.
There are plenty of positives for India in this series but nothing more significant than the fact that everyone who got a chance made the most of it. Rahul got an opportunity because of Dhawan's injury and he responded with a century, Vijay's absence made way for Pujara and he went on to play the match-winning knock and Naman Ojha ensured that Saha's hamstring strain didn't put any strain on India's chances.
A champion team is the one in which there's a healthy rivalry brewing all the time, for that ensures that nobody takes his place for granted. Ashwin, Mishra and Ishant have formed a formidable trio and will keep the Indian hopes alive for the long home season against South Africa. Their form should encourage the hosts to prepare sporting pitches and not rank turners, for under-prepared pitches produce unattractive cricket.
Top quality pitches
I must mention and thank the Sri Lankan curators for preparing three top quality Test pitches that tested different facets of your game in every match. The pitch at Galle helped the spinners and tested batsmen's skills against the turning ball, the one at P Sara was a good pitch to bat that forced bowlers to up the ante and the one at SSC for the last Test was a fast bowler's delight while the ball was new and hence tested the batting skills against the moving ball.
The series couldn't have been half as exciting if they'd prepared docile tracks for which Sri Lanka is a little infamous. Last but not the least, the joy on the faces of Indian players told me that Indian Test cricket is in safe hands. As long as the players value Test runs/wickets and cherish Test match/series wins, the game will not just survive but thrive.
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