x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

A week to forget for India

From the opening session, when Ishant Sharma bowled like a drain, to the final one where a nation could celebrate its favourite son's last hurrah, Sri Lanka were conspicuously the better side.

The sight of MS Dhoni being comprehensively bowled summed up the Test for India.
The sight of MS Dhoni being comprehensively bowled summed up the Test for India.

Dhoni's men were beaten in all departments, writes Dileep Premachandran India will be glad to get away from Galle. From the opening session, when Ishant Sharma bowled like a drain, to the final one where a nation could celebrate its favourite son's last hurrah, Sri Lanka were conspicuously the better side. The defiance of the final afternoon was too little too late, and justice was served when the clouds that could have reprieved India stayed away.

This was never a spiteful pitch or even an especially challenging one. Rangana Herath made 80 at Virender Sehwag pace. Lasith Malinga made 64. Sri Lanka had to toil 314 balls for the last three Indian wickets. Tillakaratne Dilshan finished things off with an innings that would not have been out of place in the Twenty20 game. When you score just 276 in the first innings, you deserve to lose. Sehwag's special hundred apart, it was a story of chances squandered. Rahul Dravid ran himself out needlessly, and Sachin Tendulkar chose the wrong ball to sweep. MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh lost focus just when it looked as though the follow-on would be avoided with a measure of comfort.

They were better the second time, but with a tidal wave of emotion to inspire Muttiah Muralitharan and his teammates, it was always likely to end in tears. The focus may have been on Murali, but the lethal blows were dealt by Malinga. Even on the final morning, it was his leg-stump missile that sent back Dhoni and deprived India of the batsman capable of imposing himself and scattering the field. VVS Laxman was calmness personified while batting with the tail, though the effect of his rearguard action was ruined by lackadaisical running that cost him his wicket. Both Abhimanyu Mithun and Ishant impressed with their approach and technique. Ishant used those impossibly long legs to stretch out and smother the spin, and the straightest of bats kept out off-break and doosra alike. It was the sort of diligence that would have saved the game had it been on display in the first innings. In cricket, as in life, timing is everything.

Before the series began, there was understandable concern over the quality of India's pace bowling. But while Ishant and Mithun were hardly a match for Malinga's round-arm menace, they were sprightly enough on day two to suggest that they might just be a handful in overcast conditions. The same cannot be said of the slow bowlers. Harbhajan Singh was short of fitness after suffering from the flu in the build-up to the game, but he and Pragyan Ojha bowled 58 overs in the first innings for no reward. Where Murali scythed through India's tail, they were clueless after the pacers had reduced Sri Lanka to 344 for six.

Amit Mishra might come into consideration at the SSC, but he too was treated with scant respect in the warm-up game. A continent away, Murali Kartik might be following the series with some interest. He played the last of his eight Tests for India way back in 2004. In four first-class games for Somerset this season, he already has 26 wickets at 12.96. He is far more accomplished and crafty now than he was when used and discarded like a spare wheel, but remains a pariah as far as the selectors are concerned. It might take a 3-0 hammering to wake them up.

Most batsmen managed some runs and time in the middle and there will be no rush to push the panic button over Gautam Gambhir, twice a Malinga new-ball victim. When India won at Galle two years ago, his partnerships with Sehwag were central to the success. If that association flourishes, half of India's problems will be solved. As for the spin issue, they can consult the now-retired Murali. When not taking 800 wickets, he could talk the hind legs off a donkey.

sports@thenational.ae