Sri Lanka v India, 1st Test, SSC, Colombo, 4th day July 26, 2008

Plenty to ponder for Kumble

Gautam Gambhir is stumped by Prasanna Jayawardene to become one of Muttiah Muralitharan's 11 victims © AFP
While Mahela Jayawardene described Sri Lanka's massive win at the SSC a "perfect performance", his counterpart Anil Kumble was left to rummage through the ashes of India's third-heaviest defeat and concede that they played miserably. First and foremost on Kumble's agenda was how India would sort out Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis, who shared 19 of the 20 wickets to fall in Sri Lanka's biggest win on home soil.

"Obviously we need to look at our strategy in handling Murali and Mendis," Kumble said. "We have to be a little more positive. They bowled exceptionally well and we did not bowl well. Avoiding the follow-on was always going to be tough. The wicket was not really helping spin but once you bat that way in the first innings it was going to be tough. It was an exceptional bowling performance from Mendis and Murali."

Murali finished the match with 11 wickets as India were shot out for 138 in their second innings, and he was brilliantly supported by debutant Mendis, who took eight wickets. As he had said before this match, Kumble reiterated that India's focus had not been entirely on Mendis. "We are asked more about Mendis in media conferences. Probably the focus was on him but we always knew Murali and [Chaminda] Vaas were the ones. Murali is a champion bowler."

India were thoroughly outplayed, failing to take even one session, and Kumble admitted his side have plenty to do before the Galle Test. "We need to work all three departments of the game and just not one," he said. "We dropped a few catches, Mahela was dropped and so was [Thilan] Samaraweera. Zaheer [Khan] got a wicket off a no-ball. We had to bowl well and also ensure we held the chances that came our way."

India's shot selection has come under fire in this Test - in particular the option to play Murali horizontally. Kumble, however, believed India had no need to press the panic button. "There is no need to look at a change in technique. No other line-up is more technically equipped," he said in regards to India's Fab Four. "They are players who have played for more than 15 years and have more than 100 Tests. You can't get a more experienced line-up than this. It is important for the bowlers to also put their hands up."

It is not the first time India started an overseas series with a loss, as Kumble was gently reminded in the post-match conference, but he did not blame a lack of preparation. "Statistics don't lie but we don't think that way, and we're not thinking on those lines," he said. "We did let them off the hook. We had our chances; it is not that we take time to settle.

"Any amount of planning will hold good. It is question of going out there and performing. It does not mean we were under-prepared ... we were definitely prepared. Just that we didn't get it together. Preparation is also an individual thing."

The numbers sometimes do tell lies, but they paint a bleak truth for Kumble after a match that was his worst for quite some time. Before this Test, Kumble's bowling record in Sri Lanka read 22 wickets from six matches at 42.68, with only one five-wicket haul. After 37 wicketless overs for 121 runs, that has swelled to 48.18. Putting it mildly, the first Test of this series was humbling for India's captain.

"I take it [my lack of form], but we all tried hard," Kumble said. "Nobody goes there not to give 100%. It was not that I was hiding my best. Possibly the way we folded in the two innings was not right."

Harbhajan Singh's lack of bite was also a major concern ahead of the second Test but Kumble said it was too early to pontificate on bowling changes for Galle. "On coming back after a loss, we have done it in the past and it is the same team that has brought some wonderful results. I am confident we will come back."

Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo