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Spinners cap India’s day of batting domination

August 13th, 2015 | by admin
Spinners cap India’s day of batting domination
India
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For the first time since the Wellington Test of February 2014, India got to bat with little pressure and could look forward to sessions of piling on runs. Back then they had bowled New Zealand out for 192, and took a lead of 246. Ten tough Tests later, having dismissed Sri Lanka for 183, India didn’t quite bat Sri Lanka out of the game, but managed a healthy 192-run lead. It left Sri Lanka a narrow window, but in the four overs they had in the field, the Indian spinners bowled out the openers to now threaten a three-day finish.

Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli both completed fluent hundreds, and for a change, India were now against an attack missing the quality and the spirit of the ones that have tested them recently. Dhawan responded with his second century in two Tests, Kohli with his fourth century in his fourth Test as captain, and Wriddhiman Saha hit a maiden fifty. Kohli is now on the brink of his first win as captain, and Saha on his first as a Test player.

None of these batsmen had ever played a Test in Sri Lanka, but they are good students of the game and will appreciate how much more difficult it used to be for teams travelling to Sri Lanka before this. Rangana Herath soldiered on accurately, but he missed the zip of the old, Dhammika Prasad and Nuwan Pradeep produced moments of inspiration, and figures of 5 for 134 flattered Tharindu Kaushal. Twice India found themselves in tricky situations, but on both occasions they were let off by loose bowling and slack fielding. Kaushal was the biggest culprit, bowling a spate of full tosses, releasing any pressure built from the other end. His first 16 overs went for 84, his first maiden was his 31st over, and his wickets were either dubious lbws or those of tailenders.

India won’t be complaining, though. Apart from the rained-out Test in Bangladesh, their last few assignments have been in South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia, where they often had to fight their way out of trouble. Here, they got loose deliveries readily, as they did on the first evening when they were down at 28 for 2. Even in the first session on the second day, Sri Lanka never looked in the game. In all Dhawan and Kohli added 227, India’s best third-wicket stand against Sri Lanka, but two questionable lbws against Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane – within nine balls of each other – still gave Sri Lanka a chance.

At this point India led by just 74 and were about to have their ploy of playing only five specialist batsmen tested. Saha, in his first full series as a long-term wicket keeper, was understandably edgy. Batsmen of the past in Sri Lanka expected Murali or Herath to give them a proper examination. Saha, though, got three juicy full tosses in the first 10 balls he faced from Kaushal, and was away. Although wickets kept falling on a pitch that was offering turn and bounce, Saha held the rest of the innings together to take the lead close to 200.

That was at least better than the first session for Sri Lanka. India were up against a deflated side, which began the day with a deep point in place. All they managed to do was make India wait, not work hard, for their runs. It took 50 minutes for the visitors to hit the first of only seven boundaries in the morning session, Dhawan’s hundred off 178 balls was his slowest in Tests, and Kohli scored only 17 off the first 56 balls he faced. Scoring picked up in the second hour with 99 coming off the first session, but the wickets later in the day meant India were back waiting for their runs.

It took Sri Lanka nine overs to draw a semblance of a chance from India, but when Kohli drove loosely, the dying edge went through the vacant gully position. The veteran Herath then began to string together a set of decent overs. In the 12th over of the day, the 46th of the innings, he drew a bat-pad offering from Dhawan but it fell wide of short leg. In the next over, though, Pradeep released the pressure by offering a half-volley, which Dhawan drove for the first boundary of the day. Kaushal’s introduction brought about a rise in the scoring rate. When he went for 12 in the 53rd over of the innings, India were in the lead.

With captain Angelo Mathews off the field with fever, Sri Lanka were looking at long sessions in the field. As it happens with teams in such situations, the fielding began to drop: minutes before lunch, Kohli stole a single when Dhawan hit a ball straight to Pradeep at short third man, and could be heard on the stump mic, saying, “So raha hai woh [He is sleeping].”

Mathews was back after lunch, and Sri Lanka were more alert in the second session, although the same couldn’t be said of the umpire Nigel Llong. Kaushal managed to finally get in a set of decent deliveries, first beating Dhawan’s outside edge twice, and then beating Kohli on the sweep. Llong’s risen finger made this the fifth of Kohli’s 11 hundreds to end under 110, but the ball seemed headed down leg. In Kaushal’s next over, an offbreak beat Rahane’s inside edge, but it hit him in front of middle after having pitched well outside off. Another dubious lbw given, and Sri Lanka were now looking at India’s weakness: Saha in with India having gone from 255 for 2 to 257 for 4.

Then arrived Kaushal’s full tosses although even one of them would have ended up with a wicket had Lahiru Thirimanne caught Dhawan at short cover. Dhawan had reached 122 by then, and even when he didn’t get loose balls he batted superbly. The use of his feet to advance down the wicket against spin, even if only for singles or defensive shots, also provided him quite a few flat deliveries, which he nonchalantly dabbed behind square for runs.

Dhawan always looked at ease, and when he fell to the new ball, which was taken in the 87th over playing Pradeep on, it was against the run of play. Wickets then fell regularly, three of them to Kaushal, who to his credit bowled better now, but runs kept coming too. The umpires intervened again, with Saha given out caught off the helmet, which only meant four testing overs for the Sri Lanka openers. How they would have loved to face their own bowlers.

Instead they got R Ashwin and Amit Mishra bowling accurately, turning the ball massively, and enjoying the natural variation from the pitch. In the first over, Ashwin made Dimuth Karunaratne his fifth left-hand victim of the match with a seam-up arm ball just after a big offbreak. Mishra removed Kaushal Silva with a wrong’un. You would expect better from Test openers.

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