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Six lessons from the triangular series

Virat Kohli is congratulated by team-mates after his blitz Associated Press

The triangular format can work
It may only have been revived for television purposes, but the classic formula of three teams vying for two spots in the finals demonstrated its potential for a far greater array of scenarios and intrigues than a mere bilateral ODI contest. Just as in the 1980s and 1990s, Australia's invitation to two teams to contest the hosts made for multiple levels of interest, a sense maintained right up until the final qualifying match when Sri Lanka beat Australia to elbow India out of the finals. India's Hobart pyrotechnics, of course, were sustained in order to claim a bonus point, the kind of stratagem that will never be necessary in a two-headed race. This is not to say that the concept of three teams contesting a series is beyond all suspicion. Like any sporting confrontation, its success requires opponents of well-matched merit and standing, and conditions apt for the joust. Fortunately, this series had both.

Virat Kohli is India's future
Australia's players may not like him much, but that is precisely the point. Kohli demonstrated across the series the sort of street-fighting attitude and aggression that India's next generation must possess in order to fight for their country's place at cricket's top table. The nation's financial and political strength in the game will be left hollow if the players are not willing to scrap and battle for results against similarly dogged opposition, and Kohli has the sort of marriage of class, gumption and just a little "mongrel" that Arjuna Ranatunga used so valuably for Sri Lanka. As Sachin Tendulkar's star fades and the captain MS Dhoni continues to be worn down by the demands of constant cricket, Kohli will be in heavy demand. No-one watching his effort at Bellerive Oval in particular could doubt that they were watching India's next captain.

Australia are getting the hang of succession planning
It was no easy thing to drop Ricky Ponting or Brad Haddin. Both held elevated places in Australia's dressing room for their leadership qualities and experience. Ponting is one of the game's undisputed greats. But by the end of the series the wisdom of John Inverarity and his panel could be seen in the progress of those who had replaced them. Peter Forrest played with the composure of a far older batsman when he gained his opportunity, making a century in the Hobart match that might have served as Ponting's farewell. Matthew Wade showed sound glovework, punchy batting and a combative attitude that Haddin would have approved of. David Warner had a glimpse of leadership, and by series' end had made himself an ODI player as formidable as his Twenty20 and Test variants. And on his return, Shane Watson slotted into No. 3 in the ODI batting order, the same position he is likely to occupy in the West Indies Tests. While Ponting's energy and drive were missed, it is now possible to imagine the Australian team without him. A month ago this was a far harder task.

Sri Lanka are on the right path
How disorienting for Australia's players to find Sri Lanka a far sterner opponent down under than they had been in the subcontinent last year? Following a nine-month period of uncertainty, political machinations and changeable selection, the island nation returned to its most capable leader in Mahela Jayawardene and hired a coach, Graham Ford, who has long had his eyes on the job. After some uncertain early steps as the team remembered how to win, Jayawardene took his team on a mostly triumphant path through the qualifying rounds, then found a way to regather his men after they were stunned by Virat Kohli in Hobart. The finals were tightly contested, and though Sri Lanka went home without a trophy, they had announced themselves as a team to once again be reckoned with.

Mahela Jayawardene is one of the game's best captains
Returning to the leadership of his country for reasons of duty, Jayawardene was strong in almost all the areas that his predecessor Tillakaratne Dilshan was weak. Plans were clearly set out and firmly applied, morale was regenerated, and opponents were soon learning to expect a fight. If Jayawardene skirts close to the edge of acceptable on-field behaviour at times, it is only because of his own drive and passion for results. He is a cricketer Sri Lanka's players are happy to follow, and may now do so for some time. Arguably the best measure of Jayawardene's strengths was how he managed the use of his predecessor, who entered the series under the clouds of his demotion, but ended it as the tournament's leading run-scorer, as well as a legitimate new ball option on slow pitches.

The summer dragged on too long
Like the triangular series itself, the length of the summer was a by-product of India's television and scheduling preferences. A home series against the West Indies made an earlier arrival impossible, while the money to be derived from Indian matches made the invitation to Sri Lanka all the more attractive a proposition for Cricket Australia. However the Australian summer's rhythms have been well established over more than a century of international visits, and it remains a fact that the crowds start thinning out in February and begin to evaporate altogether in March. Compelling as the contest was, there were as many groans as cheers about the need for a third ODI final, and only their most churlish detractors would rejoice in the fact that Australia's players flew straight from the final match to the Caribbean, without the chance for even one night at home.