Colombo: Ravichandran Ashwin’s 4-69 coupled with the big man Ishant Sharma’s 3-32 propelled the young and fresh Virat Kohli-led Indian team to its first series win against Sri Lanka on Lankan soil after 22 years, defeating the hosts by 117 runs, here in the third Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club on Tuesday.
Angelo Mathews scored a fighting 110 and shared 135 runs for the sixth wicket with Kusal Perera (70), giving Sri Lanka a chance to save the Test. But Perera's dismissal shortly before tea exposed the tail and the hosts lost their remaining wickets in five overs after the break. India hadn't won a test series in Sri Lanka since 1993 under captain Mohammad Azharuddin.
Here are reasons why an ebullient Team India dominated the Islanders in their own backyard:
Cheteshwar Pujara’s ‘fighting’ knock
He entered the playing XI not by normal selection procedure but as a replacement to the injured Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, and Rajkot-born Cheteshwar Pujara grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He doesn’t play in ODIs, has a better average than Rohit Sharma and after his brilliant 145* in the third Test, became the fourth Indian batsman (after Sunil Gavaskar, Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid) to carry his bat through. Pujara’s knock surely helped the Indian side with a handy 111 runs lead into the second innings, specially after India were left reeling with three wickets down on day three. His knock was termed as a ‘world class’ performance by skipper Kohli during the post match conference.
Contribution from tail enders
If you look at the Indian scorecard, barring performances from Pujara and Rohit, it was the tail enders that frustrated the Sri Lankan bowlers, noteworthy contributions from Amit Mishra and Ashwin, who may have well played an important role with the bat to pull the game away from the hosts. The lower middle order too chipped in, Stuart Binny (49), Naman Ojha (35), did wonders to extend the initial 111-run lead to 386.
Bowlers taking responsibility – Ishant Sharma leader of the pack
If the Indian batsmen might have fallen short in their department, the story is different with the bowlers — Ishant, standing out amongst them not forgetting Ashwin’s 21 wickets in the series. Ishant and Umesh Yadav capitalised on the conditions and ran through the Sri Lankan batting order with the new ball and a little help from the pitch. With eight years in cricket, according to former India skipper Sunil Gavaskar, Ishant can well be termed as the leader of the pack.
Stand-in options doing well
Although the Indian team faced a lot of injury issues and criticism for their changing and chopping of batting order, Kohli-led side did not let that hamper their style of play. More importantly, the stand-in replacements; be it KL Rahul keeping wickets in the second innings of second Test or Pujara opening the innings following injury cutting short Vijay and Dhawan’s tour.
Sharp close-in fielding
India’s close-in fielding was a revelation of sorts. While Rahul grassed one in the first innings of the third Test, he kind of made it up by taking a sharp catch on rebound to dismiss Thirimanne in the second innings of the game. Ajinkya Rahane, meanwhile, registered his name in the record books by fetching eight catches in the first game. While Rohit- the batsman faced flak, Rohit- the fielder, who on occasions manned the forward short-leg area, was sharp to say the least.