Team India staged a grand recovery and devouring ground in the manner of a thoroughbred created a dramatic finish. Outplayed for the greater part of three and a half days after opting to bat on a green top, Virat Kohli made the final day his own with a fluent century only he could have made on the surface that may have slowed down but still provided plenty of seam movement and disconcerting lift if the ball hit the cracks. His bowlers made merry in the dash to the finish until bad light pipped them at the business end.
The heroes of India’s grand comeback were the openers Shikhar Dhawan and Lokesh Rahul. The manner in which they batted in the face of a deficit on the fourth day made it appear as if Team India was ahead of the game and not in serious deficit. It was their positive approach that changed the complexion of the match after Lanka had found an unlikely batting hero in Rangana Herath who scored with most resourceful methods after specialist batsmen had fallen to India’s three-pronged seam attack.
It’s not often that Indian pacers have taken all 10 wickets in an innings and never 17 in a Test without a spinner chipping in with a wicket. The keenness that Md Shami showed at the end of the match while hurrying up to run in and yet clocked in excess of 140 kmph was most impressive. Bhuvi and Shami did all they could to embarrass the visitors in the last couple of sessions in a display of skills that made the cricket most gripping, with the final session bringing out all the drama associated with Test cricket.
The gamesmanship displayed when matters got serious in the fourth innings was the typical cricketing way of displaying fighting qualities and Dickwella, who managed to get under the Indians’ skin, was using the same tactics of time wasting that all batting teams do when fighting for the draw. Kohli could get as angry as he wished, but this was one situation in which it was hard to fault one team with not playing to the spirit of the game. It was good to see good grace winning at the end of the match with smiles and handshakes all around when the inevitable happened on a rain and weather-hit Test.
Kohli was so brilliant at the crease that he made it all look too simple. Switching gears when the danger of running out of partners loomed, he toyed with the bowling as if in a T20 game. Only the greats can make the art of batting look so very simple.
But just imagine the pressures on him as his wicket at any earlier stage of the game may have allowed Sri Lanka to get across the line of even a tricky target in the vicinity of 150 or so.
The pitch may have lost pace but it never flattened out, which meant batting was no straightforward proposition at any stage of the game and it was at its most challenging on the opening day. This is why full marks are due to Cheteswar Pujara who dropped anchor on the green top that had been strategically left to try and liven up the game which was certain to be competing against the elements on all five days given the weather front that was hovering above the area in the monsoon season.
Making your wicket dear is an old fashioned virtue in the modern age, which is where Test match specialists like Pujara come in Useful. Another one was, however, sitting out as Murali Vijay was left out to give Lokesh Rahul a run. The latter proved his mettle once again, which is an extremely good sign as a Test match team is also about bench strength. Team India plays so much that there will be plenty of opportunities for everyone.
Kohli’s team have been quite dominant in their home and subcontinental conditions.
What happened on the opening day may have been some sort of reality check considering there is a series to be played in South Africa soon. What leads to optimism around the top ranked Test team is they came out well enough in a test of character to nearly win a Test they may well have lost without the captain’s counterattacking brilliance.