India v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Delhi, 5th day December 14, 2005

Easing the road to victory

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India were also able to ram home their advantage thanks to Anil Kumble's magnificent bowling © Getty Images
The margin of victory, 188 runs, flattered India somewhat, and Sri Lanka will no doubt look back ruefully at the two batting collapses that cost them this game. In the first innings, they had been cruising at 175 for 2, eyeing a sizeable first-innings lead as Tom Moody put it later, when Anil Kumble triggered a slump that saw them lose 4 for 23 in 12 overs. Crucially, the stutter included the wickets of Mahela Jayawardene (60) and Marvan Atapattu (88), both of whom had repelled the Indian bowlers with some assured batting.

Then, with 436 needed for victory, or close to five sessions to bat out for the draw, they made serene progress to 109 for 1 before Kumar Sangakkara went for one of those lazy wafts that have blighted his career from time to time. The slice to point that cost him his wicket in the first innings was even more appalling, and the casual air with which he appears to approach the task on hand will have to be shed if comparisons to Adam Gilchrist are not to prove the stuff of mirth.

Batting gaffes aside, it was Sangakkara's keeping - or lack of it - that saved India from lurching into a crisis on the opening day. They were 152 for 3 when Sourav Ganguly gave Muttiah Muralitharan the charge, and Sangakkara fluffed the stumping chance, despite having time enough to effect two dismissals. It was a pivotal moment in the match, and Ganguly went on to help Sachin Tendulkar add 102 more for the fourth wicket.

India were also able to ram home their advantage, thanks to Anil Kumble's magnificent bowling. It takes a special performer to eclipse Murali, but Kumble did that comfortably here, picking up 10 for 157 to Murali's 8 for 218. There was also an improved display from Harbhajan Singh in the second innings. Having taken just seven wickets at 64.71 in five previous Tests against the Sri Lankans, Harbhajan was treated with scant respect in the first innings by batsmen grown used to playing the peerless Murali in the nets. But he was far more accurate and threatening at the second time of asking, and the wickets of Thilan Samaraweera - to what could only be called a firing-squad shot - and the well-set Jayawardene eased India's path to victory.

India also triumphed because they had the two batsmen who adapted best to the Kotla pitch. Tendulkar started hesitantly and got to 50 in circumspect fashion, but there were flashes of the destroyer of old as he then romped to his century. But even the master was outshone by the apprentice allrounder. Irfan Pathan played with regal poise, even against Murali, and a cursory glimpse at his wagon wheel will tell you how straight he played to master the conditions. And on such a slow pitch, bowling figures of 4 for 72 were an added bonus, comparing favourably with Chaminda Vaas's output of 3 for 142.

The sour note, and there was one, was the fans' sporadic heckling of Ganguly. You'd think that a man who'd led India to 21 Test victories - a record far superior to any other leader - would be granted some respect, but some Neanderthals masquerading as fans thought otherwise. His Test career could conceivably be over after the selectors wielded the axe this afternoon, but this was a reprehensible way to farewell a man who has contributed immeasurably to India's emergence as a major cricketing force over the past decade.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo