Sri Lanka count positives in bruising draw
Click here to listen to Kumar Sangakkara's post-match press conference
At the end of the five days, 1600-plus runs were scored in three innings, with 21 wickets falling on a pitch that failed to crack even on the fifth day and allowed batsmen to make several records. And, well before the scheduled close of play, the captains agreed that a draw would be a logical conclusion.
The contrast between the start and finish, though, couldn't have been sharper. Motera on Monday morning echoed to the sounds of silence as Chanaka Welegadara asserted himself over the Indian top order with a controlled spell of fast swing bowling. Less than an hour into the game, with India at 32 for 4, a result looked likely. By the end of the day that idea had faded; it would fade further over the next few days and evaporate by Day 5.
Much of that was because of the pitch; MS Dhoni initially joked he wouldn't have played any cricket on it given a choice but eventually did not single out the pitch as the culprit. "The wicket was quite flat, but it was not the flattest I've played on," he said. He did, though, concede there was no help for the spinners. "Even if there was a bit of turn there was no real pace and bounce from the rough for them to exploit."
Consequently the batsmen, safe in the thought that the pitch would behave, only had to play sensibly. For the bowlers, especially the spinners, it was an endless grind. They would turn up every day fresh and ready like hopeful job aspirants, only to retreat into the dressing room six hours later drained of all energy and ideas.
Yet there were positives, more for the Sri Lankans, who entered the game with meagre resources - especially in their fast bowling department - and were forced into last-minute replacements. Welegedara was asked to get ready five minutes before the toss, after Thilan Thushara failed to recover from a shoulder injury, for his first Test since his debut against England in 2007. Creditably, he held his nerve, bowled at good speeds and got decent swing to keep the Indians in check. "To respond the way he did shows he has a lot of character, a lot of hunger," Kumar Sangakkara said of him.
Dammika Prasad, Welegedara's new-ball partner, bowled aggressively and, though he went for runs, he was relentless with his pace and even managed to get some good reverse swing in both innings. Unfortunately he pulled a hamstring and according to his captain has a slim chance of playing the next Test.
Sangakkara does have one concern: The performance of his seniormost bowler, Muttiah Muralitharan, who was the most ineffective of all bowlers on duty. Though conceding that the "bulk" of the job was done by his fast bowlers, he didn't criticise his spinners. "Our spinners are still finding their way round bowling in Tests in India," Sangakkara said. "This was a good experience for them bowling lengthy spells."
That's not entirely true of Murali, the world's leading wicket-taker; he took all of three in the match - none of them in the crucial second innings. He will be under pressure to perform in Kanpur, especially after Sangakkara singled out Rangana Herath's performance in this Test. The compliment will boost Herath given that his inclusion ahead of the unorthodox Ajantha Mendis had stirred a debate.
Yet Sri Lanka's best chance to win the game, as Sangakkara said, was on the first day when India were on 32 for 4. "We just let it go with the lines and length we bowled after lunch and tea," Sangakkara said. "There was nothing there in the last two days. It is all about taking the chances that come your way and we didn't on the first day."
When India walked in for their second innings Dhoni admitted there "was a bit of bother" in the dressing room. The key was to get a good start, which came by way of the 81-run brisk opening stand between Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir; Gambhir's patient century led India to a safe zone. "We needed a good partnership to begin with and we got that," he said.