After losing a match that could have been easily won, the Indian squad would be trying to forget the first Test and move forward with meticulously drawn out tactics. As skipper Virat Kohli and his playing XI gear up for the Colombo Test against Sri Lanka, here is our take on what went wrong and how India might learn from their mistakes.
1. Team Selection
While usually hailed as one of the most promising line-ups in the new era, the combined failure of batsmen has now raised serious questions about whether it was the right pick. The BCCI often faces heat from fans and media alike for selecting players based on their performances in the limited overs format, especially in the IPL. It is this very reason that is cited for ignoring Cheteshwar Pujara. He was initially looked at as a prospective replacement for Rahul “The Wall” Dravid because of his ability to take time and then build the innings up. Last month, he was declared the captain of India A, and thus not picked again for the international series. Along with this, Lokesh Rahul has failed to deliver and because of Murali Vijay’s injury, India has no other options. The management might decide to send Rohit Sharma or Virat Kohli to open with Rahul. Second Test will be a bigger challenge because Shikhar Dhawan has also been injured.
2. Inability to take advantage of the 1st innings
Indian spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra did a brilliant job by restricting Sri Lanka under 200 in the 1st innings. This was well complemented by the double tons of Dhawan and Kohli and resulted in a total of 375, thus pushing the hosts entirely to backfoot. In spite of all this, the burning question of how we lost still lingers. The answer can be found in the fact that India could not drive home this advantage and keep Sri Lanka under pressure. When Dinesh Chandimal came to the crease in the 2nd innings, his team was struggling to clear the deficit. Yet he, with the help of two 40s by Lahiru Thirimanne (44) and Jehan Mubarak (49), pulled Sri Lanka back into the game. What was needed by India at this point was slowing down their run rate and making Chandimal struggle to add runs. Too much effort was put into trying to take his wicket, which also made the Indian team lose focus on dismissing the batsmen on the other end.
3. Failure to take last five wickets
Furthering the argument made in the previous point, India has not succeeded very well in the task of getting the latter half of the opponents’ line-up. Even in Sri Lanka’s 1st innings, skipper Angelo Mathews dragged his team to 139 before giving his wicket up and ending a 79-run stand for the 6th wicket. India took the first five wickets at 50 yet Mathews’ team ended up with 183, managing more than double the 50 runs in the latter half. Similarly, in the 2nd innings, India was well possessing the upper hand but could not decipher the riddle of Chandimal’s knock. Thrown off by this sudden twist, the Indian team could not recuperate and bring the match to their favour till the innings’ end. Due to this, they also could not focus on taking the wickets of Thirimanne and Mubarak and by the time they succeeded, Chandimal had already made game-changing partnerships with them.
4. Lack of defence, especially against Chandimal
In a situation that was making the Sri Lankan team sweat from their brows, how did Chandimal manage to overpower India? He certainly must have decided to construct decent partnerships and simultaneously mount up the scoreboard, but it was also due to India’s inability to defend. Once he smashed his ton, India knew that he would become more difficult to dismiss. This demanded throwing him dots and slowing his run rate down, and gradually make him throw in his wicket. Instead, the Indian squad kept on trying to attack him and wrap up the Sri Lankan innings as soon as possible. This inclination to attack cost them the 162 runs by Chandimal and eventually the match.
5. 2nd innings batting failure
India’s shocking 2nd innings performance opened many eyes and saddened many hearts. What made it worse was the comparisons drawn between their and Sri Lanka’s latter innings. India’s target (176) was lower than the first innings deficit (192) Sri Lanka was struggling against, and yet the hosts triumphed. India had two days and nine wickets at Stumps on Day 3 to make 153 runs but two bad sessions and an inability to tackle Rangana Herath led to a shocking loss. This reminded many of last year’s England tour when spinner Moeen Ali caused major destruction to India’s batting line-up. India needed one batsman to settle and keep on playing, which Ajinkya Rahane was trying to do. He could not, however, receive support like Chandimal did from the other end, and in the end India lost.
Many have blamed Kohli’s strategy of playing five bowlers for the defeat. Team manager Ravi Shastri has stated, “When you win six sessions and you lose two sessions, but still go down 1-0 in the series, there’s a lot to take away from that match. There’s a lot to learn from it as well. We are not skirting behind any problems and there are no excuses. It is for us now to come out as a team and learn what went wrong in that Test.” Here is hoping Shastri and Virat Kohli manage to defeat Sri Lanka and bounce back strong.