Butter fingers, and Sehwag’s woes
The three-Test series between India and Sri Lanka swung constantly from one side to the other, often from session to session. About Cricket brings you the main turning points of a fascinating series
Sri Lanka had four centurions in the first innings of the series – and all four got reprieves well before they had put 600 on the board. Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera were dropped, Malinda Wanapura caught off a no-ball, Tillakaratne Dilshan got a decision overturned in his favour, though the review was doubtful. In all, the four scored 339 runs after the reprieves – and that was only the tangible effect they had.
Sehwag comes and goes
For the first five overs of India’s first innings in the SSC Test, it seemed the match – affected by rain and a docile pitch – was headed only one way: a draw. Certainly no danger for India. It was Virender Sehwag who made things look like that, scoring 25 runs in the first five overs. But when he hooked Nuwan Kulasekara to a waiting fieldsman at deep backward square leg, little did he know what was coming up next. An innings defeat.
Mendis arrives … and destroys
India’s collapse started with Sehwag, but Ajantha Mendis’ first wicket – Rahul Dravid, out bowled – had a psychological effect on the Indian middle order that plagued them the rest of the series. That devastating carrom ball was perhaps the biggest turning point of the series. Mendis was no longer a mythical mystery spinner but a destroyer in flesh and blood, and India didn’t know how to handle him.
Sehwag applies himself, but the umpires don’t
In the second innings at the SSC, Sehwag looked more circumspect, more responsible, but was undone by a poor (given the amount of replays available) decision to give him out lbw. Another collapse, which would become a feature of Indian batting, ensued and the last nine added 113.
Gambhir and the middle order desert Sehwag
With Sehwag playing perhaps the innings of his life, and Gautam Gambhir supporting him, India looked like getting to a big total in the first innings of the Galle Test. Gambhir got out with the score at 167 and in no time India were reduced to 178 for 4. VVS Laxman held his end up and put on 100 with Sehwag, but the next collapse featured six wickets for 51 runs.
Sri Lanka show they can collapse too
Having wasted Sehwag’s innings, it seemed India had already lost the series, given the way Malinda Warnapura and Kumar Sangakkara started to wipe out the deficit in a hurry. But Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble turned the screws and were rewarded with Warnapura’s wicket. Sri Lanka competed with India’s collapses, as they went from 137 for 1 to 192 for 5.
Kumble interrupts a Jayawardene gem
In the same innings, Jayawardene seemed to be pulling off a heist with the tail, farming the strike, taking singles off the last balls, and frustrating the Indian bowlers who somehow find the tail hard to dislodge whenever the need is dire. Just when it seemed Jayawardene might take Sri Lanka to a crucial first-innings lead, Kumble showed up. His second wicket of the series was also the most crucial: only one run was added after Jayawardene’s dismissal.
Tendulkar and Dravid follow each other again
Having taken a substantial first-innings lead, and following a 90-run opening stand, India should have sealed the match there. But towards stumps on day three, they lost Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid on the same score, and the next six for 69 runs on the following morning. The Indians didn’t look pleased with the review decision that went against Dravid but it was a smart call by Jayawardene.
Pace shows up
With that collapse, Sri Lanka kept the target down to 307 and would have thought they had given themselves a chance, but Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan snuffed out any such notions. Between the second and the fourth over of the innings, they struck thrice with wickets of Warnapura, Sangakkara and Jayawardene, and the match was all but over.
Ishant inspires again
With the equaliser almost in the pocket, India got a final scare when Dilshan and Samaraweera looked to hustle them out of the match. Though they had a long way to go, their partnership (eventually 76) had started to bring Sri Lanka back into the game. But Ishant came up with one final inspired spell, beating the bat consistently at a high pace and with balls that would leave the batsmen a touch. His persistence finally paid off when he got Dilshan with a similar delivery, triggering another collapse: the next five went for 23.
Brawn and brain come together
Sehwag and Gambhir had got off to a quick start before another debutant turned the third Test Sri Lanka’s way. India had scored 51 in seven overs when Dammika Prasad got Sehwag’s wicket with a beauty. Prasad came back in his second spell to break the back – sorry, the middle – of India’s batting but Jayawardene stayed on top of his game too, successfully challenging two decisions that looked like inside-edges to the naked eye.
Dravid drops the Idea Cup
All through the series India had been sloppy in the field, and this one cost them the most. Had Dravid caught Sangakkara when the batsman was on 34, it would have been a sensational slip catch, but it was high time India came up with something sensational in the field. Sangakkara, by the way, went on to score 144.
Where’s the consistency, ump?
After Dravid dropped Sangakkara and before the latter had ground India to dust, there was a period where India had built up some momentum only to be denied by the inconsistency in the review system. They had taken two wickets for four runs, and should have had three for 16 when Kumble’s appeal for an lbw against Samaraweera was rejected. The replays seemed quite similar to when Dravid had been ruled out earlier in the match but, for some reason, the original decision was upheld. Samaraweera was on 5, then, and went on to score 35 – and, more importantly, put together a 60-run partnership with Sangakkara at a crucial juncture.
The last straw
It was a cruel anticlimax for what had been a great series. After India had fallen behind by 147, only Sehwag and Gambhir could have provided the series with yet another twist. They started to oblige, with 57 runs in nine overs before tea on the penultimate day. It turned out to be false hope. The two fell in quick succession after the interval, and left the Indian middle order, half of them injured, with too much to do. What was disappointing was the soft manner in which the two got out – the series deserved better for a final turning point.