By Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
Arrival of spinner Ajantha Mendis has added new impetus to the Sri Lankan cricket team performance. Sri Lanka has been on its victory march and in the just concluded Test match series between Srilanka and India, once again the Colombo boys roamed home with an easy win. Sri Lanka survived early blows to clinch the series against India with a comfortable eight-wicket victory on the penultimate day of the third and final Test at Colombo on August 11 Monday. Despite the fact that the hosts lost Michael Vandort and Kumar Sangakkara in the opening seven overs and there was an early wobble with Sri Lanka collapsing to 22 for two, yet they quite comfortably reached a 122-run target in the closing session, thanks to sustained and unhurried runs by Malinda Warnapura (54 not out) and skipper Mahela Jayawardene (50 not out). Bowling first or early lose of wickets did not bother them at all.
Amidst the usual blame game by India on its tools for its defeats, like bad pitch, poor bating and bowling and bad umpiring, Sri Lanka clinched a 2-1 series victory with an emphatic eight-wicket victory against India in the deciding third Test. The hosts were left chasing 122 for victory after bowling out India for 268 in their second innings and finished 123 for two after 33.1 overs. Ganguly to Mahela, for FOUR!, that is it, 32nd Test FIFTY for Mahela and a series win for the side, the Sri Lankans are delighted! Kumar Sangakkara is the Man of the Match for his splendid knock of 144 which enabled his side post a good first innings total.
In the morning, India looked set to bat out the first session without losing a wicket before two quick wickets before lunch. India, resuming on 161 for five at the start of the day, were eventually bowled out after fighting innings from Rahul Dravid (68) and VVS Laxman (61 not out). India, trailing by 147 runs, was bowled out for 268 in their second innings despite gutsy half-centuries from a struggling David and Layman. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh shared the new ball with Zaheer Khan and struck with his fourth delivery when he bowled out-of-form opener Vandort (eight), who finished the series with just 39 runs. Zaheer claimed a big wicket in his fourth over when he removed Sangakkara, who drove straight to Gambhir at mid-off. Sangakkara, who made a solid 144 in the first innings, contributed only four.
Sri Lanka’s run chase started badly with opener Michael Vandort (eight) cleaned bowled by off spinner Harbhajan, and left-armer Khan then grabbed the scalp of Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka’s first innings centurion, as the left-hander mistimed a drive straight to mid off, but then the innings then ended quickly as the host had decided to let the spectators have an extra holiday. With still a day left, the hosts on August 11 were left chasing 122 for victory after bowling out India for 268 in their second innings and finished 123 for two after 33.1 overs. Malinda Warnapura (54 not out) and Mahela Jayawardene (50 not out) then added an unbroken 101-run partnership.
In fact, when Jayawardene and Warnapura reached tea on 45 for two it was almost sure the game would end that evening and after the interval the third-wicket pair hunted down the target aggressively in front of the largest crowd of the game. Warnapura cracked five boundaries in his 99-ball unbeaten 54 and Jayawardene stroked three fours in his 50 from 85 balls.
First Tests & Records
Earlier, both Sri Lanka and India had one point each. Sri Lanka had won the opening Test by an innings and 239 runs on 26 July. Sri Lanka declared at 600 for 6 (Jayawardene 136, Dilshan 125, Warnapura 115, Samaraweera 111) India managed the second match by 170 runs even as the SAARC summit was underway in Colombo. There were no more hiccups for Sri Lanka as Jayawardene and left-handed Warnapura made the most of India‘s depleted attack, adding 101 for the unfinished third-wicket stand. IND v SL, 3rd Test, Day 4, Colombo: Sri Lanka 396 & 123 for 2 beat India 249 & 268 by 8 wickets.
Centuries from Malinda Warnapura, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Samaraweera guided Sri Lanka to 422 for four on the second day of the first Test against India. Warnapura, Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera and Dilshan all scored centuries in Sri Lanka‘s score over days one, two and three. Opener Warnapura scored 115 from 202 balls with 14 boundaries while skipper Jayawardene compiled a stylish 136, an innings spanning 259 deliveries including 10 fours and a six. Warnapura and Jayawardene added 155 runs either side of lunch as India’s bowlers were forced to toil throughout the first two sessions. Jayawardene’s century was the 23rd of his career and his ninth at the Sinhalese Sports Club, a record for the most centuries at a single venue that he now shares with Australian great Donald Bradman.
True, Muthiah was adjusted the man of match of first Test, but it is Mendis who caused a lot of problems for Indians, the players, the spectators and the only..India media. The Lankans drastically changed their mode of play and won the match, again in style, handing in the Indians one of the worse Test outcomes in recent history.
Unorthodox spinner Mendis, the man of the series, claimed three for 81 from 34 overs to complete a match haul of eight for 137 in the game. The 23-year-old claimed 26 wickets at 18.38 during the three-match series. Mendis was a revelation for Sri Lanka in his first series, breaking Englishman Alec Bedser’s 24-wicket record for the most wickets in a debut series set against India in 1946. Veteran off-spinner Muralitharan claimed three for 99 from 37.5 overs, extending his series tally to 21 wickets at 22.23.
In this series an awful bating decline phenomenon has been noticed. Of course, the visitors were outclassed by some fine display of cricket by the Lankan Tigers. Clearly, it was the hyped up Indian batting department which went down like a tube suffering a puncture against the Lankans. The Indians failed to solve the mystery and as a result were no match to their opponents. It’s said that you need to pick up 20 wickets to win a Test but at the same time you need runs under your belt to have enough confidence to go for the kill. The runs were never there and the middle order disappointed very badly.
The batting department again wasn’t at its best, little more consistency perhaps would take them to places. Batsmen including Mahela Jayawardene have consistently reduced their innings runs. Michael Vandort could not do enough justice for his stay at the grease. Lankan bating was not consistent either. Mahila(50) was not doing his bating job quite well in the last innings, but he played a calculated game in the decisive final innings. Malinda Warnapura (54) proved his mettle in this series with good scores under his belt and the senior people shouldered the responsibility well. The weakling would be their opening batsman Vandort who failed to come out of the run drought despite of so much investment of faith in him.
On the very fist Test between Sri Lank and India at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo, Sri Lanka beat India by an innings and 239 runs. The Lankans scored 600 runs very easily and could have scored, even 700 plus, and declared. Lankan spinners took 19 out of the 20 wickets falling. Overall after Asian Cup tournament when Sri Lanka won the match once again, it was a one-sided affair in which the Lankan tigers were victorious. But in subsequent Tests the innings runs were fewer.
Of course, however, from blaming on bad pitch and bad umpiring against “Indian interests”, now India has begun pointing to middle bating for the series defeat, but they have also won the second Test. They still have to a long way to go in admitting the fact that opponents are at times better teams than India. One fails to understand why Indians always think they are the best at ever thing even at spots and why can’t they admit that countries that are smaller in size and importance cold be better in many fields!!!
This series is something that the whole of India would want to forget, but, given their superiority complex, will they? The Indians would regroup and rethink their strategies. Of course, it would be a brand new side that will take the field for the ODIs but the damage done here in this version might have a huge effect on one and all. But Sri Lankans will also have their fresh strategies to face their aggressive neighbors. Sri Lankan Team is poised to make a few new tends in world cricket. It is Mendis whose tricks will haunt Indians even more during the ODIs.
Murali and Mendis maul India
Certainly, Mendis magic continues to baffle the Indians right from the Asia Cup Finals into and throughout this Test series. Ajantha Mendis is the Man of the Series for his superb debut Test series. He gathered 26 wickets in the three Test match series. This is also a World Record for picking up the most number of Test wickets in a debut series, he surpassed Sir Alec Bedser who piled up 24 wickets. Mendis and Murali, the awesome twosome hogged all the limelight in this series for the home side. They picked up 47 wickets between them in this series and that is where the knock out punches came from.
Muralitharan and Mendis shared all ten second-innings wickets between them to script a massive innings and 239-run win against India within four days at the SSC. Many contenders for the Man of the Match award but it was Muralidaran who bagged it for the 19th time with a match haul of 11-110.
Muttiah cashed in as the batsmen tried to figure out Mendis. Mendis, on debut, provided plenty of worries to the Fab Four. He took away the batsmen’s focus from Muralitharan, who then laughed all the way home. Mendis was entrusted with the ball after ten overs and a few full tosses were duly put away by Gambhir. With the last ball before tea, he beat Dravid with a legbreak, but it wasn’t enough for his first Test wicket. Dravid was beaten clean and square by a ball which landed on middle stump and hurried past an uncertain back-foot prod, disturbing the off stump.
Gary Kirsten, India‘s coach, blamed India‘s predicament on poor batting, and three of India‘s shots were indeed damning. Obviously, India‘s bowlers were frustrated by Lankan performance right from the beginning. Sri Lanka‘s spinners were far more successful than India‘s on a track that allowed Sri Lanka to post 600. And the pressure told. Quite deservingly, Muralitharan and Mendis lead the Lankans off the field. Muralitharan destroyed India top order. Tortured by Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis, India headed to a massive innings defeat, 131.4 overs to play out and the confidence of handling the spinners nowhere in sight. Spinners Muralitharan and Mendis left the tourists in disarray on a dry spinning pitch, bowling out India for 223 and allowing Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene to enforce the follow on with India trailing by 377 runs.
Is this the beginning of a new era where there’s a new kid on the block to support and match Murali from the other end? Lots of hype and expectations from the young debutant and one must say that he didn’t disappoint anyone with his mysterious spin. The Sri Lankans are indeed elated and why shouldn’t they be? They deserve every bit of it, they won session after session and it looked like a one-sided affair throughout.
Naturally, the jubilant crowd was up on their feet to salute the champion performance of their home team. India through the middle of the match faced the prospect of a massive innings defeat after slumping to 103 for six in their second innings, still 274 runs in arrears, in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo.
An admixture of good bating and effective bowling has took the Sri Lankan cricketers to the victory stand and quite rightly. However, it appears bowling is trying to overtake the bating power which is lacking new directions and fresh tactics on both sides to meet the bowlers’ ever raising challenge. Now that the Tests are over, the ODIs are going to be played shortly in Sri Lanka and one has to see the new tactics of Sri Lanka and counter-moves from Indian side. However, the phenomenon of Mendis will continue to haunt the visitors through out.