Sri Lanka v India, 2nd Test, Galle July 30, 2008

Another test for the slow starters


The batting order may have been reworked in the second innings at the SSC, but that's unlikely to happen in Galle © AFP
 

As embarrassing as defeat within four days at the SSC may have been, it wasn't entirely unexpected. For all the batting records that India have piled up over the past decade, there has frequently been a tendency to start a series poorly. Whether home or away, the batsmen are slow starters who tend to come into their element once they've had a couple of innings to size up the opposition and the conditions.

The smart money must surely be on Sri Lanka extending their fine record at Galle with a win that will ensure the series. But it would be sheer folly to write off an Indian line-up, unparalleled both in terms of experience and runs, as history suggests. Australia, who've played two memorable series in India this decade, could tell you that much.

Back in 2001, Australia destroyed India inside three days at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, extending their winning streak to 16. Apart from Sachin Tendulkar, who played two brilliant innings, everyone else looked out of their depth in the first Test. At the Eden Gardens in Kolkata a fortnight later, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid scripted the partnership of a lifetime to change the course of both the second Test and series.

Three years later, India's batsmen were once again second-best in Bangalore, undone by Australia's superior pace attack. But in the second Test at Chepauk in Chennai, Virender Sehwag's magnificent 155 drove home an advantage established by Anil Kumble's sensational 7 for 48 on the opening day. Australia fought back, but India were still favourites heading into a final day, that was washed out.

Those glitches were at home, but the situation has been no different away. On the last two tours of England, India were thoroughly outplayed at Lord's in the opening Tests of both series. In 2002, Sehwag's 84 was the only saving grace as England established a huge lead. Ajit Agarkar's century in the second innings total of 397 only helped to reduce England's victory margin to 170 runs.

In 2007, England built a handy lead, and a dazzling century from Kevin Pietersen then set India a formidable target. It was left to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, aided by bad light and some generous umpiring, to salvage a draw.

Sri Lanka will also be keenly aware of this Indian team's ability to bounce back from dire defeats. On the last tour, India were thrashed by 10 wickets in Galle in the first Test, with a batting line-up missing Tendulkar and Laxman, managing just 187 and 180 in either innings. But in a low-scoring encounter in Kandy that followed, India overcame poor first-innings batting to snatch a famous victory. Dravid made 75, while Sourav Ganguly scored an unbeaten 98.

On the eve of the second Test, Kumble insisted that there would be no panic measures. The batting order may have been reworked in the second innings at the SSC, but that's unlikely to happen here, as well as Laxman batted at times in the first Test. "I have utmost confidence in my batsmen," he said.

With huge series coming up against Australia, England and Pakistan, a crushing defeat in Galle would mean the clamour for change becoming more than a dull buzz. This line-up has done India proud for more than a decade, but with the sand sliding towards the bottom of the timer, none of them will want to leave under ignominious circumstances.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo