Kumar Sangakkara comes across as a charismatic personality who is as erudite off the field as he is astute on it. But then that is something one can expect from someone who is training to be a lawyer in between cricket tours. Fully aware of Sri Lanka’s abysmal record in Tests in India – over 27 years in 14 Tests they lost eight and drew six – he put the ball firmly in the home team’s court on arrival by saying that the pressure was all on India while his team had nothing to lose.
It was clear that the Sri Lankans came over as underdogs despite the fact that they are the No 2 ranked team in the world and India are one place behind. Of course this could largely be due to the fact that the Lankans are so tough to beat at home but events in the just concluded Ahmedabad Test proved that the Indians who themselves have a formidable record at home can underestimate their neighbours only at their own peril. Under the circumstances it was gratifying to read that MS Dhoni after the conclusion of the Ahmedabad Test has said that it is going to be a close series.
There is much talk about the lustrous quality of the Indian batting line up and why not? Where else will you find four batsmen in the top seven average 50 plus? One other has an average in the mid 40s while the averages of the other two are in the mid 30s. One batsman is the leading run getter and century maker in Test history and another is fifth in the all time list of run getters. A total number of 16 double centuries – including two triple hundreds - have been notched up between five batsmen in the line up.
These days however one has to in the same breath talk about the lustrous quality of the Sri Lankan batting. Like with India, batting has always been the Lankans’ strength but in recent times it has been at the peak. The Ahmedabad Test underlined this. Sri Lanka’s total of 760 for seven declared was the highest ever by any team in India and the fifth highest overall. There were three hundreds, one of them a big double hundred. Two batsmen broke a famous 72-year-old partnership record for the sixth wicket. Overall too there is every reason to believe that their batting compares favourably with India’s. Three batsmen in the top six average 50 plus and two others are in the mid 40s. A total number of 14 double centuries – including a triple hundred - have been notched up by three of the batsmen in the line up. Of the ten Test partnership records four are held by Sri Lankan pairs – a truly phenomenal achievement for a country that played its first Test just 27 years ago.
With these credentials behind them, the batsmen from the two teams didn’t need a benign Motera pitch to display the manifold qualities of dedication, determination and concentration. The match was written off as a draw long before it finally meandered to its predictable result after 1598 runs were scored and only 21 wickets were taken by the hapless bowlers. Even on the final day a bowler like Muthiah Muralitharan – the leading wicket taker in Tests no less – couldn’t obtain any purchase. The pitch certainly did something that many batsmen have not been able to do – get the better of Murali who has the ability to turn the ball anywhere. Here he seemed so clueless and guileless and his remaining wicketless in the second innings after bowling nearly 40 overs and conceding well over 100 runs has to be the most decisive comment on a pitch that wasn’t exactly a good advertisement for Test cricket.
The traditional format of the game has come under the scanner from all quarters, the latest being Greg Chappell. The former Australian captain seeg little future for the longer version adding that there is bound to come a time when only four or five major countries will be playing Test cricket. Pitches like Motera will only fan the criticism. It is fine to run up batting feats and break long standing records – seven centuries, in fact, were the most for any Test on the sub continent - but shouldn’t cricket be an equal contest between bat and ball? That is the essence of a true contest, lively and engaging, and we have had any number of engrossing Tests in recent years, thanks to the right approach and a sporting track.
No amount of positive approach, however, could have changed the one sided trend of the Ahmedabad Test. Such dead surfaces are no good for the game and do cricket a disservice just as tracks that go to the other extreme – like the dubious one that was laid at the Wankhede stadium in 2004 when India defeated Australia in about two days playing time. One can only hope that more responsive surfaces will be provided for the remaining two Tests.