In India’s first major tournament since MS Dhoni announced his retirement, I was waiting to see the combination of Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli together.
The two of them are known to be brash, and aggressive, and it would be cricketing equivalent of Gabbar and Shaakal playing Ludo together in a room.
Kohli’s style was clearly evident in his selection. While Dhoni preferred Jadeja, Murali Vijay and Mohit Sharma, Kohli went for Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra, Wriddhiman Saha, and Varun Aaron – who has the reputation for spraying the ball like an ostrich with diarrhea.
Things began like a dream. While Ishant Sharma continued his trend of not picking up any wickets, and Aaron went for 6.18 runs (in a Test, mind you!), it was left upto Ashwin to pick up 6 wickets and wrap up the innings in a day.
Shikhar Dhawan got roaring on the second day, picking up a century along with Kohli, his fourth century in as many Tests as captain. Wriddhiman Saha pitched in with 60 runs, and the team looked set at 375, gaining a lead of 192. Healthy target, you’d think, with three days left in the match.
However, Sri Lanka had different ideas for the second innings. They stuck on to the pitch like Velcro, taking advantage of our top-class fast bowling attack in Ishant Sharma and Varun Diarrhon.
Chandimal, whose name sounds like the wet fantasy of a trader in Surat, scored 162, getting adequate support from the middle order in the form of Thirimane (44), Mubarak (49), Sangakkara (40), and Angelo Mathews (39). Sri Lanka finished with 367, securing a lead of 175.
Sharma went at 5.92 per over, and Aaron at 5.57. It was up to Ashwin (4 wickets) and Mishra (3) to salvage some respect from the innings.
So that was it, then. We had two days to bat. And 176 to win, and a famed batting line-up that is considered the best in the world. Only, nothing seemed to go to plan.
The innings began horribly, with Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Kohli being dismissed so cheaply, you’d mistake them for plastic balls sold in Big Bazaar. Before you knew it, the famed Indian Batting Collapse of the 90s occurred (read Saptarshi’s brilliant article on the 90s here).
With more than a day to go, Indians were reduced to a whimpering, struggling side, cooling their heels in the pavilion, having successfully snatched loss from the jaws of victory.
At the end of the Test, a few serious questions remain.
How long are we going to persist with Rohit Sharma? How long are we going to talk of his ‘immense talent’, when all he has shown of it is on placid Indian tracks, hammering hapless West Indian bowlers.
There is also Ishant Sharma, whose Test record seems to be getting worse by the year, the only saving grace is that his hair seems to have grown shinier and bouncier.
Harbhajan Singh, now truly past his prime, will have to come up with something magical to warrant his place in the Test side now.
Sri Lanka won the match with an unbelievable margin of 63 runs. All talk of aggression seemed foolish in hindsight, and India awaits the second Test at Colombo that begins on the 20th.
For the twists and turns, and three spectacular performances, the first Test between India and Sri Lanka gets a 4 out of 5 rating.
Bad if you are an Indian viewer, but great for Test cricket in general.
Look out for our review of the second Test here!