So India won the Test series 2-0 against Sri Lanka and they went top of the ICC Test Rankings. That’s 124 points for you, two ahead of South Africa. Sri Lanka find themselves in fourth spot as they pushed Australia to number three. These are but conclusions for the computers in the ICC offices.
For some one watching from outside, the biggest realization ought to be that we are living in the age of Virender Sehwag. Rahul Dravid score his century in Ahmedabad at a strike rate of around seventy made one surmise it to be the age of Twenty20; the shortest format’s high scoring rates now reflected onto the five day game. But then Viru took centre stage. His century at Kanpur meant that India scored at seven an over in the second session on day one of the second Test. Has any team ever won a Test match that quickly, for Sri Lanka never recovered from that beating?
As if he missed out in Kanpur even after scoring a 122-ball 131, he sent Mumbai berserk with a 254-ball 293 and said that he only hit the bad balls to make that score. Even the Lankan bowlers would have been forced to think just how poorly did they bowl to send down 250-plus such deliveries to only one batsman? It is, however, not their fault that the batsman-in-question bats without any care for pitch conditions, weather conditions, ground conditions, spin, pace, swing/reverse swing. He could score on Mars for all they know. The point is has there any one been like Sehwag ever? We say he bats probably like Sir Viv and Sir Don, possibly. One isn’t sure if even they could do what Sehwag can, and that pretty much speaks about his place in the annals of the game.
Sehwag’s aggressive streak is but one aspect of the Indian batting. The other part, and quite pleasing one at that, is the team’s ability to fight it out when in jail. Any one remember the days when the opposition would have the best batsmen in the world bat out nearly six sessions, and then, they would go into their shell only to be bowled out for meager totals and hand back the series. Two instances come to mind straight-away: England in 2005 when the team wilted in the Mumbai Test and then, in South Africa (January 2007), the story was repeated in the third Test handing the series to the hosts on a platter.
That chink in the armory of the Indian team is gone as of now. Chennai 2008 against South Africa, Bangalore 2008 against Australia, Napier 2009 against New Zealand and now at Ahmedabad against Sri Lanka; the team have come a long way since the infamous Sydney collapse on the Australian tour in 2007-08. And the one man common to most of these fight backs has been Gautam Gambhir. A good start in such a situation almost always takes the pressure off the latter batsmen, something which never happened in the past. God bless the Indian openers, would be the thought of the average cricket fan here.
Coming to Sri Lanka though, they have a lot of questions to answer. But the most important ones concern their two legendary players, Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya. The former was thrashed around so badly in this series he would have forgotten the mauling he once received at the hands of Brian Lara. Atleast then he had picked some wickets but this time it was zilch. And there was talk coming from him about early retirement. Even earlier than the 2011 World Cup when a host of cricket superstars will call time on their careers.
Jayasuriya didn’t participate in the Tests but he is here to play the ODIs and the T20s. Last time he figured in those, he didn’t have a very good time and questions were raised about his place in the side as well. Combined together, these two form a potent pairing which was instrumental in their winning the 1996 World Cup, also played in the Indian sub-continent. If these two go out of reckoning now, the Lankans would have to re-draw their blueprints all over again and their time starts now, with the series against India.
(The columnist is a sports writer and Mobile ESPN cricket commentator based in NewDelhi, India.)