The second half of the Sri Lanka – India test match could not have been more contrasting to the 1st half as Sri Lanka snatched an incredible win despite trailing by 192 runs at the end of India’s 1st innings – having been bowled out for 183.
So what changed for the Lankans? What did they lack in the 1st half of the match that they made up for in the 2nd half?
Let’s start with the batting shall we?
In both innings, Sri Lanka’s relatively consistent openers failed. Their dismissals seemed to mirror each others. In the 1st innings, both Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva were undone by short deliveries. In the 2nd innings, both were done in by spin. Karunaratne was bowled by an excellent Arm ball from Ravichandran Ashwin, which was preceded by a couple of deliveries that turned sharply away from him. Silva, on the other hand, failed to read Amit Mishra’s googly and was bowled through the gate. Neither seemed convincing at this level.
Neither Thirimanne nor Sangakkara seemed completely comfortable at the crease with Ashwin bowling at his best. Sangakkara’s dismissal in the 1st innings, in particular, was soft; half heartedly playing the ball straight into the hands of the fielder at Silly point. Ashwin was able to tick all the boxes in terms of spin bowling, with flight, dip and spin. Despite this and the pairs’ failure in the 1st innings, both batsmen battled their way through in the second innings. What was noticeably different, particularly in Thirimanne’s case, was the attacking intent that was shown in the 2nd innings. He employed the sweep shot to great effect in an attempt to put the bowlers off their lines.
Jehan Mubarak looked like he did not belong in the international arena in the 1st innings, succumbing to yet another soft dismissal for a duck; but came out and played perhaps one of the most fluent innings of the match in the 2nd. This was most definitely his best batting performance in test cricket as he attacked the spinners right from the word go; stepping out to hit Amit Mishra for a six on just the 3rd ball he faced. He certainly used the long reach he has to combat the spin of both Mishra and Ashwin.
Angelo Mathews, Sri Lanka’s go to man, stepped up once again during crunch moments of the match. In both innings, he looked to take on the bowlers by coming down the track and lofting them down to long on or mid wicket. This seems to be a conscious effort on the part of Mathews when playing spin but it could also lead to his downfall on some occasions as we saw in the recently concluded series versus Pakistan. In this test match however, it worked for him, as he was able to get decent, if not satisfactory, scores in both innings.
Dinesh Chandimal had the match of his life and, it has been a long time coming. Like Mathews, Chandimal seemed to walk out to the crease with the intention of hitting Ashwin and co. off their lines and it worked, particularly in the 2nd innings. They say fortune favours the brave and in this case it did, as Chandimal swept and reverse swept his way to his highest test score. In the 2nd half of his innings, he looked almost impossible to dismiss when he put away his wild hoicks and replaced them by taking some calculated risks when Kohli attempted to stop him from farming the strike. Chandimal’s innings was reminiscent of the match winning century Angelo Mathews got in England last year; expertly negotiating the perils of having a weak tail.
Sri Lanka possess perhaps one of the weakest bottom four in world cricket presently and they performed as expected, barring Herath’s entertaining 23 in the 1st innings, in which his characteristic slog sweep featured prominently.
Now to the bowling: Sri Lanka’s performance in the 1st innings was lacklustre at best. None of the bowlers really looked threatening once Kohli and Dhawan got together and certainly Sri Lanka’s spin king of the past Rangana Herath looked ordinary once again. The pitch itself looked a different one to the one India had bowled on as neither Herath nor Kaushal were able to produce Ashwin’s spin or control.
Kaushal’s figures of 5 for 134 are somewhat deceiving, as having picked up 5 wickets it would seem that he troubled the batsmen. But the reality was that though he did produce some good deliveries, he also gave the batsmen a spate of half volleys and full tosses throughout his spell. This is reflected in the fact that in his last 5 Test innings, barring the 2nd innings performance in this match, he has picked up 14 wickets for 442 runs, at an average of 31.57 runs per wicket; which really isn’t good enough at this level. His performance in the 2nd innings was drastically better in terms of his control, even though he only picked up 3 wickets. With the exception of occasionally slipping down the leg side, he was able to keep his line and length and maintained pressure on his end throughout his spell.
Rangana Herath, written off by many because of his recent performances, seemed like an entirely new bowler during the 2nd innings. One could say that this was probably his last opportunity to re-establish himself in the team and he certainly did so. In the first innings, although economical, Herath seemed to be just putting the ball up there for the batsmen to play. However, in the 2nd innings, according to many pundits, he seemed determined in getting his body into his action and putting more revolutions on the ball in order to extract something out of the seemingly dead Galle pitch.
Both Dhammika Prasad and Nuwan Pradeep have turned out to be steady performers in the test arena. Though neither possess the raw pace of the likes of Dushmantha Chameera, they managed to maintain the pressure created by the spinners and not give too many runs away, while picking up the occasional early wicket. Unlike the Indian pacers, they stuck to pitching the ball up and getting the batsmen to play as many balls as possible. Pradeep in particular was instrumental in keeping Shikhar Dhawan on one end whilst the other batsmen struggled against Herath on the other end.
Sri Lanka’s bowling performances were mirrored by their fielding. In the 1st innings the fielding was slack and uninspiring, while the zip Herath was getting off the pitch in the 2nd innings seemed to rejuvenate the fielders too. In fact this may have been one of Sri Lanka’s best fielding performances in the recent past.
Despite the result here, Sri Lanka’s struggle with spin continues. In this match, they reaped some rewards with aggression, however, this same ploy failed in the recent series against Pakistan, so it is definitely something they need to continue to work on. But we can say with absolute certainty, with regards to this match, that the positive intent shown in all three departments drove Sri Lanka from the doors of defeat to a win so glorious that it will be hard to forget.