The first Test between India and Sri Lanka finished on a very exciting note. Although rain and bad light robbed the match of many playing hours, the final day’s play had all the ingredients to show why Test cricket is identified as a “way of life.”
India struggled to get a reasonable total in the 1st innings and with a healthy lead and with less than two days’ play left, the Sri Lankans were sitting pretty, even fancying a victory or in the worst case scenario, a draw. The Indian openers walked into the middle in the 2nd innings as if they were two individuals who had runs behind them. The reality, however, was that KL Rahul was on a king pair and Shikhar Dhawan too had failed in the 1st innings. But the ensuing partnership between these two and the way in which they played was truly amazing. It was Test cricket at its best. Their positive approach brought about a revival of the depressed Indian players. The Sri Lankans felt vulnerable as India picked up the broken pieces.
The morning session of the fifth and final day saw India lose a few crucial wickets and Sri Lanka, with their tails up, suddenly looked like clinching their first ever Test victory on Indian soil. But Indian captain Virat Kohli played an innings of character and grit and took his side to safety. He scored a magnificent century and his onslaught at the end to reach the three-figure mark emitted confidence, which once again made India look like true champions.
Cricket can be harsh if things don’t go your way. The Sri Lankans, having looked like potential winners in nearly every session of the match, suddenly looked tentative and uncertain. Fortunately for them, bad light brought the match to an early close and they just about managed to eke out a draw. India have now established their superiority and the road ahead for Sri Lanka looks bleak and dreary. India should be able to win this series quite comfortably.
This match reflected the beauty of Test cricket. The game is normally played through 15 sessions, and faltering in just one can at times be the difference between victory and defeat.
In the domestic circuit, the new Ranji Trophy format has now reached an interesting stage. The huge scores made by the batsmen reflect very strongly how competitive the game has become. A cricketer now needs to not only show consistency, but also scintillating performance to get noticed. The batsman who has caught everyone’s eye is the young U-19 India captain and Mumbai youngster Prithvi Shaw. Shaw was a young prodigy when he slammed 546 in an innings during a school cricket match, but to perform in the same manner as the great Sachin Tendulkar at the first class level is simply remarkable. He is bold, impatient and impetuous and has failed to convert his centuries into huge scores. A few months and talks with Rahul Dravid, the U-19 coach, should help the youngster immensely to attain greater heights.
Meanwhile, the BCCI has once again shown its step-motherly treatment to domestic cricket. The players most likely to feature in the coming limited over series against Sri Lanka have all been sent to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) for training and recuperating. They have been restricted from playing for their respective state sides in the Ranji Trophy. Some of the sides are in a crucial stage with just one match to play. To keep the players away at this juncture shows how little value the BCCI places on its premier domestic tournament. The best and the only way to maintain form is to play matches. No amount of practice can ever be equated with the time spent in the middle. The excuse of getting injured or tired makes no sense as Indian cricket is at present full of prospective players who can fill the gap.
Recently, Kohli spoke quite vehemently on two issues that the BCCI needs to look at very seriously. One is the overworked schedule the Indian team is being subjected to with hardly any time to recoup or recover. The captain is pleading for some physical and mental rest for him and his boys. He said the players’ performance may suffer if they continue in the same vein. This is a worrying aspect as the team is playing some extraordinary cricket at present and needs to keep the momentum going. Any derailment can be hugely detrimental when they play better sides in the future.
His second concern is that with the present itinerary, the team will not get enough time to prepare for their crucial encounter against South Africa when they travel there in the beginning of next year. The wickets there are fast and bouncy. He understandably feels that plenty of practice and preparation is needed to perform well there. This is the first time that an Indian captain has spoken so forcefully in favour of a focused preparation camp, which requires simulating the conditions that the team is most likely to face in South Africa. It shows he means business and is hell bent on proving that India is a team that can also perform well away from home. We need to wake up and give the Indian captain what he needs, as am away Test series victory against South Africa would be an achievement to be coveted. After all, India are yet to win a series there.
(The author is a former India cricketer)