In his 28-Test captaincy career, Virat Kohli has had to decide about batting again on eight occasions. Only three times, he has asked the opposition to follow-on.
“Chasing a target is always a big-pressure situation because if you lose a wicket, you don’t know how the new batsmen will react under that pressure. So we always like that format where we put opposition under pressure for chasing in a Test in the fourth innings, more often than we do it,” revealed Kohli after India yesterday won the second Test by an innings and 53 runs.
There is certain template about India’s Test plans nowadays. Win toss and bat first, put up a tall score and unleash the spin twins.
In a few Tests at home, they have batted second and yet managed to follow the same plan (Mumbai and Chennai Tests against England). It was no different in Colombo then, as India put 622/9d on the board and then watched the opposition crumble to 183 all out.
It is but obvious that this collapse proved to be the difference between these two sides. It is also a foregone conclusion that this 439-run lead conceded in the first innings – when the SSC pitch was still good for batting – is a marker of the gulf between these two sides at present.
This has been a lopsided series so far. The Indian team is a well-oiled machine that has blasted every opponent out of the park in the past season or so.
Yes, much of this has been achieved on familiar turf of the sub-continent, or in tropical climates of West Indies and Sri Lanka where pitches aren’t too different from home. But there is definitive consistency about this team’s play.
This has been gilded together primarily by two components: a steady batting line-up and a hunting pair of spinners.
Both elements are joined tog-ether by an in-form pace attack, which although limited by conditions, still has its uses. Even so, you only need to pick out three names herein – Cheteshwar Pujara, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Since September last year, Pujara has raked up 1617 runs in 15 Tests at 67.37, including the 133 he scored here at the SSC in his 50th Test. He also scored 153 in the first Test at Galle. The Ashwin-Jadeja axis combined to take 153 wickets in the 13-Test long home-season.
They have already taken 24 out of 37 wickets on offer in this current series. There is almost a sense of inevitability when playing against this Indian side.
It becomes more pronounced when a struggling outfit, like Sri Lanka, get caught in the crosshairs. Was their first innings’ collapse here a sign of that intense pressure inflicted by a dominant opponent? What about their scores of 291 and 245 on a benign Galle pitch?
In this light, the 191-run partnership between Dimuth Karunaratne (141) and Kusal Mendis (110) seems a ray of hope.
For a change, not one but two Lankan batsmen stood up to the onslaught of the No1 ranked Test side. They weren’t deterred by the task at hand, nor in awe of the spin-twins as both batsmen swept their way to glory.
For a change, they made even Ashwin and Jadeja think about redrawing their plans. “They played high-risk shots but with great effect. We had to bowl with variation to induce a top edge, but it didn’t work,” said Ashwin.
In the overall context of the game, Karunaratne and Mendis had only delayed the inevitable. In the grander scheme of things pertaining to Lankan cricket, the duo gave a fleeting glimpse of a possibly brighter future.