Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant and Jasprit Bumrah are the positives for India from IND vs SL Test series.
In just about five-and-a-half days, India propelled to another comprehensive 2-0 series victory over Sri Lanka who were thoroughly outclassed in all departments and put up the contest for just about two odd sessions in the entire series. The hosts were far stronger than their opponents at home, achieving their 15th straight home series victory since losing to England in December 2012.
Let’s take a look at some of the positives that India could take away from the recently concluded Test series against their neighbours.
Pant raises his level with both bat and gloves
Rishabh Pant continued to shine with his speedy growth in Test cricket becoming the player of the series. To put things in perspective, he now is the first Indian wicketkeeper to win the award in the longest format of the game. With 185 runs at a strike rate of 120.13 on tracks where the ball was asking all the questions, Pant took his bar up with skilful batting.
But more than that part, the satisfying factor would be his keeping. He conceded just five byes over the first three innings of the series. Even on the rank turner on offer in Bengaluru, he looked confident in his footwork keeping to Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in tandem.
“The more significant factor in this series was his keeping,” India skipper Rohit Sharma praised Pant, saying this was the best he had seen him keep wickets. “I keep asking about how the batters are playing and so on, as to what’s happening.”
The only problem he faced was the wobble pink ball seam of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami under lights but undoubtedly, the more India will play the day-night affairs, the more he will improve. From the 2019 Mohali ODI game against Australia just before the ICC 2019 World Cup, where he was bullied by the crowd, Rishabh Pant has changed the fans’ perception three years down the line.
Iyer stood up to the occasion with Vihari providing faith
Shreyas Iyer has just grabbed his chance with both hands. The moment Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane were dropped from the Test side, Iyer, who notched up a fine Test hundred on debut in Kanpur against New Zealand last year, had few games to grab his spot because there is still the effervescent Shubman Gill waiting in the wings. It is safe to say, however, that with 186 runs in the series against Sri Lanka, especially his masterclass of 92 and 67 in Bengaluru where the other batters certainly had no knowledge of how to survive long, he showed how to deal with troubles at the pitch.
It again emphasises the importance of playing first-class cricket on those spinning tracks to adapt to the conditions. Playing with soft hands and keeping the head steady with proper balance was the main reason of Shreyas’ success and to be honest, he batted really well even with the tail.
“I’m very, very impressed with his performance,” Rohit announced. “It’s not easy to play on these pitches especially when you are playing your third or fourth Test match; he showed a lot of composure.”
To add more reasons for cementing his place, his slip catching too under lights was fantastic to the fast bowlers.
Hanuma Vihari too looked stable on occasions in the three innings he batted. While his 58 in Mohali when India lost two quick wickets laid the platform for a mammoth total, he was good during his 31 in Bengaluru as well where he played some eye-catching shots. India are planning to put him at number three replacing Pujara and the initial signs are reassuring to say the least.
World witness Bumrah’s class on a placid rank-turner in Bengaluru
On any ground in any condition against any side, figures of 5-24 are superb to say the least, but doing it as a fast bowler in the sub-continent or on a rank turner in Bengaluru where you are pitted in a side consisting of high-class tweakers like Ashwin, Jadeja and Axar is nothing but unimaginary; well, Jasprit Bumrah loves the word. It was his eighth career fifer in 29 Tests but just first in four home Tests probably also because of sparse opportunities due to the prevailing team culture of rotation to manage workloads of pacers in particular.
Most balls he bowled were unplayable; and behind everything he did, there was one certain plan. Late on the second day, he got rid of Angelo Mathews who looked like the only Sri Lankan batter till then who could bat on the Bengaluru track. Bumrah initially bowled a straight ball before an inswinger that jabbed back at Mathews; he followed it up with a slower ball when at that moment, Mathews was expecting a cracking yorker but Bumrah, going one step further, bowled an out-swinger which Mathews nicked to Rohit at slip.
“Someone like Bumrah, he’s never out of the game whatever the conditions are; he is always in the game,” Rohit said. “Moving forward, in coming years, you’ll see a lot of Bumrah playing Tests in India and abroad as well.”
It’s tough to be in Dimuth Karunaratne’s shoes
In the build up to the series, Sri Lanka captain, Dimuth Karunaratne articulated his team’s growing status specially mentioning the 2019 South Africa tour. And his selectors offered him few bowlers, of whom some just bowl half-tracker and others just break down while one pacer before a pink-ball Test was advised rest.
Even in his batting on the last day of the tour, he was on 74 while Niroshan Dickwella, coming back after a break, decided to dance down the track only to be stumped out. Before the start of the day’s play, Karunaratne was seen to be practicing a lot to counter the spinners with positive intent and he restarted the fresh day with a blue towel in his pocket; that could be a luck factor like Steve Waugh or Mohinder Amarnath used to carry a red handkerchief in their pockets.
One of the main reasons for the left-hander’s fine innings in Bengaluru was proactiveness; showing calculative intent while at the same time understanding the importance of being over the bowler’s head on a track that was turning, bouncing, seaming, swinging and doing all sorts of tricks.
Karunaratne was beaten few times but he never showed the scars and also didn’t try to dominate the bowlers; he always remained in his own bubble and structured the innings in his own unique way. The other important thing playing in the sub-continent is playing with soft hands and Karunaratne used his wrists so well to keep the ball down and away from the close-in fielders.
India captain Rohit Sharma made him wait on the scratchy nervous number, 99, bringing his premier bowler Jasprit Bumrah who had troubled him in their few meetings during the series. But Karunaratne was steady this time; he missed a few balls before flicking one to the rope for a boundary to reach his 14th century.
Since 2018, in Test matches, he is the best opener all around the world with 2448 runs in 54 innings at an average of 47.07 including 7 tons and 13 fifties. Given the average of opening batters hover around 31.78 in the said period, this is classy stuff from the Sri Lanka captain.
Looking at his reaction after the hundred, one could sense the joy and excitement but he failed to express it fully considering the scoreline of the series. Nonetheless, in a game that saw Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant batting, it was Dimuth Karunaratne who produced the best knock of the game and their other batters should take a leaf out of his innings.
Sri Lanka will play their next Test against Bangladesh at home according to their present schedule while India will face their next red-ball challenge starting July 1 to finish their interrupted series against England.