Sri Lanka extend home dominance
Three Tests, and three results; though all three Tests finished inside four days this was a much-needed dose of the five-day game given the ODI surfeit on the subcontinent. A 2-1 result suggests a closely-fought series but, though India fought back splendidly in Galle, Sri Lanka were once again too strong at home.
Since their victory over India in 2001, Sri Lanka have won 11 out of 14 home series, and their win-loss ratio at home is only second (though a distant second) to Australia. Sri Lanka's dominance was best reflected by the average runs per wicket for both teams: Sri Lanka 40.71, India 24.60. With the two wins in the series, Mahela Jayawardene moves past Sanath Jayasuriya to become the second-most successful captain for Sri Lanka (in terms of Test wins); he's the only one among the ten to have won over 50% of Tests in charge.
The series also marked Ajantha Mendis' entry into the longer form of the game, and the trialling of the umpiring review system; both had a considerable impact on the result of the series. Mendis' haul of 26 wickets, the best in a debut three-Test series, left not only the Indian batsmen second-best but also Muttiah Muralitharan, Test cricket's leading wicket-taker. Murali took 21 wickets, the first time a team-mate has taken more wickets than him since West Indies' tour to Sri Lanka in 2001-02, barring the 2004 home series against South Africa, in which he played only one match.
Openers - India, Others - Sri Lanka
Had the returns of each side's openers been switched in the series, India might have been whitewashed by their opponents. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were the only two batsman to score more than 300 runs in the series (India's batsmen played two more innings than most of Sri Lanka's) but there were five Sri Lankans with over 175 runs in comparison to three for India. (Click here to view how each player fared with the bat.)
India's middle order - Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman - are often referred to as the Fab Four, but they managed just three fifties in 24 innings. Excluding the 2002-03 series in New Zealand and the home Tests against Australia in 2004-05 - where the conditions made run-scoring a tough proposition - this was the lowest collective average for India's batsmen Nos 3-6 in a series since 2000. Tendulkar, who began the series needing 172 runs to become the leading run-getter in Tests, finished it with a further 77 to get - his series average of 15.83 was his lowest in one where he's played more than one Test.
Sehwag and Gambhir had five 50-plus scores between them, including Sehwag's match-winning 201; for Sri Lanka's batsmen, the tally read five hundreds and six fifties, with four hundreds scored in the first Test in Colombo.
|Position||Sri Lanka runs||Average||Strike-rate||India runs||Average||Strike-rate|
The performance of the the batsmen was reflected in the partnerships for both teams. Michael Vandort's 39 runs in six innings ensured Sri Lanka never got off to a start while Sehwag and Gambhir invariably did; unfortunately for India the batsmen that followed didn't capitalise: barring the first wicket, the only other stand where they averaged more than their Sri Lankan counterparts was for the tenth wicket.
|Wicket||Sri Lanka average||Run-rate||100s/ 50s||India average||Run-rate||100s/ 50s|
If India's middle order came up woefully short in comparison to the Sri Lankan counterparts, the consistent brilliance of Mendis and Murali couldn't take away from the fact that the Indian spin unit was below par. Harbhajan Singh took 16 wickets at 28.12, but ten of those came in India's win in Galle (he took 6 for 297 in the other two), while Anil Kumble's poor record in Sri Lanka continued: he averaged an even 50 for his eight wickets. The fast bowlers were not expected to make much of an impact, but Ishant Sharma hastened Sri Lanka's downfall in Galle, while another debutant, Dammika Prasad, took vital wickets in the series decider. (Click here to see how the bowlers fared.)
Mendis and Murali
Mendis troubled Laxman and Dravid the most, dismissing them five and four times respectively. Laxman, who became the eighth Indian batsman to go past 6000 Test runs, finally seemed to get a grip of Mendis in his last innings of the tour, that too with an injured ankle. He managed to remain unbeaten in that innings, while Tendulkar, who had done splendidly against Mendis till then, padded up and fell to him for the first time. Both Sehwag and Ganguly remained unbeaten against Mendis.
Laxman, on the other hand, never fell to Murali, while Ganguly was dismissed by him five times. Sehwag was once again comfortable against the offspinner.
In the contests between the Indian bowlers and the Sri Lankan batsmen, Harbhajan managed to dismiss Jayawardene thrice, while Zaheer Khan removed Kumar Sangakkara the same number of times.
While India were by far second-best in the field, another aspect where Sri Lanka triumphed was in the review of umpiring errors. In total, there were 48 calls for a review, and on 12 occasions, the on-field umpire changed his initial decision after consulting the third umpire. Here's a break-up of the reviews made by the two teams:
|Team||Reviews called for||Successful calls||Unsuccessful calls|
India's second innings in the third Test had both teams exhausting their three reviews without any success. Jayawardene, who made some superb calls to get key wickets, for once seemed to have lost his keen judgment, with two unsuccessful reviews off consecutive deliveries coming as Tendulkar padded Muralitharan away. Tendulkar, though, squandered one when Mendis trapped him in front. Kumble didn't get a single review right while India were fielding, and called for two while he was batting - both were unsuccessful. The only person to get it right for India was Ganguly, who got a lbw decision overturned in the second Test. In all there were 39 reviews involving leg-before decisions, and nine on close-in catches.
Mathew Varghese is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo