A lot of things had happened in the 3-test series between hosts Sri Lanka and the off-shore neighbours India. Interestingly, all these tests ended on the third day of play itself. This was one amongst the the many interesting points to be seen from the tour. A good series from cricketing point of view and the Sri lankans won the series, hands down, I should say. I mean, the Sri Lankan team was perfect in all their departments.
The Indians came to the Island with a lot of things on their mind, what with mendis already visiting their dreams(nightmares!) after that superb Asia Cup finale. And, then, Dhoni seemed to have found the "right" time to take rest during the all-important test series, thus handing over the job of the 'keeper to two who had butterfingers throught the series. The practice match was "OK" for the Indians as one would put it, nothing too alarming, nothing too soothing. The sides met at the more famous of the two stadia of the Capital city- the Sinhalese Sports Club, known to assist spinners sooner than later during the course of the match. Both teams had quality spinners. The Indians banking on the experience of Harbhajan and Jumbo, Srilanka confident of giving the "New-Big-Name" of cricket, Mendis, his debut, along with ace magician, Murali.
After a few spells of typical Lankan rain, the match heated up with the Sri Lankan batsmen showing no mercy while scoring runs. As many as four centurions were seen on the score card! Having scored 600, it could've only been Sri Lanka's game to lose! When India came on to bat, on what seemed to have been a flat batting track mid-way through the test, many would've thought the test was heading to another draw. Not so long ago was it, when South Africa fought back in their match against England to "win" a draw. Back in Colombo, things were looking bright and fast as Indian openers gallopped on the shoulders of the Delhi duo. But, Sehwag was to depart early, cutting short his blitzkrieg innings. Then on, apart from the steady show of Gambhir and Laxman at the wickets, the spin combo did what they were expected to, if not, more than what they were expected to. The Indian tail which famously wags for a long time, couldn't do any better than the top order. Soon, India were following on, trailing, still, by another 373, I suppose. The script for second innings was even more dramatic. It took just 31 overs of spin to demolish the most talked about batting order in the world. It took just 8 hours to dismiss the line up twice, so, thats just about 4 sessions! Thats called winning in style! The magician finished woth 11 scalps and the debutant had 8. What a start for him! The best since Stuart Clark started featuring ono the international scenario...
Shove that test now... Now, the team travels to Galle, the city that carries a lot of sorry tales from the tsunami episode that devastated the island. But, now, a new pitch was laid, the stadium rebuilt and two sides having a point or two to prove. Well, this time, India batted first and Sehwag made yet another HUGE century, errrr...a double century. He tore apart the Lankan bowling, who were at one stage more keen in displacing his partner at regular interval than try to dislodge his, as that proved to be a difficult task. Ultimately, surprisingly, amazingly, Sehwag became the second Indian to carry his bat and India put up a decent 329, 296 of which came from 3 willows and 12 more came in a extras. Imagine what happened to the rest of the batting line up. i do not want to describe the card, looks not-so-good. Sri Lankans did actually start off well, apart from that early wicket. Wanrapura, Mahela and Kumar made decent scores, but, after them, no one gave support and Bajji ripped apart more than half the order. Leading by a meagre 37 runs, India came in to bat for the second time and made a decent 269 to put the target just beyond 300. With around 5 sessions to go, Sri lanka came in to bat, hopeful of easing through to the total. But, Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan were at their merciless best, getting 3 quick wickets and Bajji chipping in with a wicket in his first over to make Sri Lankans sweat when they looked up at the score-board. But then, Dilshan and Samaraweera steadied the ship and pulled things back a bit. Just when one was thinking that the game was going into the 5th day, Dilshan was done in by an absolute beauty by Ishant, having just pitched one short and punished the previous ball. Then on, the Lankans played the worst shots in the book and ended up losing by a big margin. Samaraweera was stranded on the other end for a well compiled half century that may not get much attention as India's victory on that day. So, was the brilliant 10 wicket haul by Mendis in just his 2nd test. He was just about unplayable. Only Sehwag and Gambhir could manage his spells.
With the series one game a piece, every other player was rubbing his palms, fire in his eye, hunger to win the match. Jumbo won the toss and elected to bat, like who won't on the good looking batting track. Another debutant, Dammika Prasad, who had earlier dug a thorn in the minds of Indians in the practice game, impressed all as he took three wickets in the first session. He hails from the same place as Dilhara Fernando and has the eyes and aggression of Murali. Oh boy! Wasn't he excited on getting the prized wicket of Sachin, who seems to be the one to fall to debutants on many occasions off late! A topsy turvy Indian innings which would seem to be cruising along at one stage and by the time you move to the refridgerator to fill your tummy, it would be 9 down for less than 200. It needed steady innings from Zaheer and Ishant to remind the players that it was still a batsman's pitch. The Lankans approved the notion. India had one wicket late in day one to find Vaas take up the crease as night wtchman, who stayed on for longer than expected next morning, giving support to the centurion, Sangakkara, who, later went on to be the Man-of-the-Match. With Vaas already having played decently up the order, the Lankan line up looked deeper than normal and made almost 400. Eventhough India managed to compile a decent 268 second time around, with an injured batting line up, it was never going to be enough. With ishant injured, Jumbo had to toss the ball to Bajji to bowl the second over. Interesting? Yup! But, Bajji just accepted the ball and returned the favour with a wicket. Zaheer soon got the second one and Srilanka were now 24/2 chasing 122 for victory. But, captain Mahela lead by example and in prime company of the upand rising opener, Warnapura, the Lankans were victorious. This match also saw Mendis break the record for most test victims in the debut series. Thus, fittingly, the Man-of -the-series.
Jayawardene captained the side well nd introduced the spinners at good times(the duo ruled the roost!). The Lankan batsmen had a good series all through. Theri fielding was superb and lived upto the name of the best fielding side, no matter how many debutants they play. The Lankans, deservingly, won the Series. After all the "precautionary" measures against Mendis, Laxman and Dracid fell to him 5 and 4 times respectively. Laxman did perform decent enough though. Both Sachin and Ganguly missed out on opportunities. Sachin couldn't become the highest run getter yet, still needing just around 80 runs more. The 'keepers were below par on both sides of the crease. Jumbo didn't seem very threatening. Injury crept into the side at just the wrong moment. Only a few good things happened for India. The openers were in excepetional form, Harbhajan and also Ishant(on a flat spinner friendly wicket, Ishant was not ready to give away any run!) bowled well.
Now, the procession moves into the lighter format. It is to be seen if the inclusion of young blood into the side makes any difference to the side. Many of them are practicing to face spinners!!! Thats not a big news, given that Mendis looks more threatening in the SriLankan colours than in his military outfit. So, only time'll tell if the Indians have a reply for the Asia cup finals. The Srilankans would like to hold fort yet again. Its going to be a bloo-sweat-&-tears ODI series up next. Watch out for it!