When India’s bowlers earned their stripes

September 4, 2015

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The test series (2-1) victory against Sri Lanka was truly impressive. It didn’t begin on a promising note though.

In the first test, just as Team India reached the last lap, having dominated until then, they faltered. The humiliating defeat could have easily crushed the spirit of any young team. The dressing room would have felt suffocating for Virat Kohli and his boys. The loss could have easily had overwhelming influence over the short three-test match series, but the boys decided to pick themselves up and launch a counterattack. And that’s where this team distinguished itself.

India had never come from behind to win a test series away from home. A team that only had two players (Harbhajan Singh, 103 tests, and Ishant Sharma, 65 tests) who have played more than 50 tests, played their heart out and scripted a historic victory.

Though cricket is a team sport, often batsmen are “seen” to walk away with the limelight in a team’s victory. This time it was the bowlers who earned their stripes with distinction.

An off-spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin, who hadn’t quite done justice to his talent in away series, bowled magnificently. The way he plotted against Kumar Sangakkara, one of the finest contemporary batsmen, was the highlight of the series. Ashwin bowled with rare control and guile, keeping Sangakkara guessing with his tantalizing flight and length. In his final test series, the veteran Lankan batsman got out to Ashwin in all the four occasions. A tally of 21 wickets in three tests stands testimony to Ashwin’s relentless quest for excellence. The man of the series award was a deserving badge of honour for him.

What was even more heartening to see was the way Indian bowlers – Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Amit Mishra and Ashwin — hunted in a pack. Each bowler played their role in dismantling the opposition. Ishant bowled consistently well with speed and accuracy and provided the crucial breakthroughs. When the Lankan captain Angelo Mathews (110) and Kusal Parera (70) looked like achieving the seemingly impossible draw in the final test with a 135-run partnership, Ashwin and Sharma struck in quick succession to dismiss both the batsmen.

Ishant used the new ball with great effect – a sharp inswinger had Mathews plumb in front. The twin-dismissal truly epitomized India’s well-coordinated bowling attack in the series. If only Ishant had stuck to the job of taking wickets and not getting involved in ugly arguments with the Lankan players. Being the senior most bowler, he should have led by example on both performance and conduct front.

Umesh Yadav played only the last two tests, but he repeatedly beat the bat with his raw pace and movement. A series haul of five wickets doesn’t quite reflect Umesh’s impressive performance. Though one feels, with little more consistency in line and control of length, he can become the stellar fast bowler that India has been looking for.

Leg spinner Amit Mishra bowled with hunger and aggression and came up with a career best series haul of 15 wickets. He routinely polished off the opposition tail, which Indian bowlers are notorious to allow it to wag. A young bowling attack to have taken all 60 wickets in a three-test series reflects a cohesive bowling performance of rare distinction.

And yet too much should not be read into this series victory as Sri Lanka, as a team, is going through a transition phase where the stalwarts have made way for the young players who are finding their way into international cricket.

The real test awaits India in the form of a home series against South Africa in October. But this victory would have surely galvanized the DNA of the team.

(Editing by Robert MacMillan; Follow Anupam on Twitter @IPratihary and Robert @bobbymacReports | This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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