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August 11, 2008
After surrendering the series to a clinical Sri Lankan outfit, India have to face up to and deal with the harsh truth that they only won one session of this game. Left to rummage through the remains of yet another overseas series squandered after a memorable comeback, Anil Kumble, India's captain, had few positives to pick out.
"We missed out on a good opportunity to beat Sri Lanka," Kumble said. "We did really well in Galle to come back and we did not capitalise on the winning of the toss here. You cannot lose five wickets in the first 40 overs of a Test. That happened to us quite regularly in this series, which is something we need to think about."
With a hundred more runs in the first innings, India could have changed the outcome of this match. However, their famed middle order failed again - twice. Dammika Prasad and Ajantha Mendis bowled with guile and accuracy to spell the death knell for India. Kumar Sangakkara's match-winning hundred boarded up the coffin, and Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan returned to hammer in the nails.
"For a new batsman to go in straight away and face two spinners is never easy," Kumble said. "People got starts, if they had converted it would have been a different story. I do not want to give excuses. Overall we did not play quality cricket to win the series."
This was also arguably the worst series for India's famed middle order. Sachin Tendulkar looked a shadow of himself in scratching 95 runs at 15.83 and Sourav Ganguly, who batted so brilliantly against South Africa at Ahmedabad and Kanpur in his last series, was a phantom in Sri Lanka, making 96 runs. Rahul Dravid's tentativeness at the crease this series has betrayed a tinge of insecurity, and VVS Laxman managed just two fifties, out five times to Mendis.
"It is not just one or two players [who we should blame]," Kumble said. "It is important that everyone contributes. I do not think there was enough contribution throughout the series from the middle order consistently. Even the lower order did not contribute consistently except one game here. That is obviously something that let us down."
Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma turned in match-winning performances in Galle but otherwise there was little to speak of in the bowling department. Except for Harbhajan, who took 16 wickets, no bowler averaged less than 30. Kumble, India's highest wicket-taker ever, had a series to forget. His eight wickets at 50.00 was his worst three-match series since India played Pakistan in 2006. "I take responsibility," he said, before quickly opting to take the clichéd route, "but the bowlers put their hearts in."
The saving grace of defeat is that it invariably brings lessons. As Kumble pointed out, India have a month and a half to think about what needs to be done before a four-Test series against Australia. "That's still a lot of time for us to reflect on what went wrong," Kumble said. India's time starts now.