India's long-awaited success in a home series was made possible by the Sri Lankans' reluctance to come to terms with spin bowling on a sporting pitch in the Second Test and on a doubtful one in the Third. With their 2-0 victory in the Tests, India thus avenged their unexpected defeat in Sri Lanka the previous season.
There was little hint of the eventual collapse of Sri Lankan confidence as the visitors made runs in plenty in the run-in to the Test series; nor in the First Test, which was played on a placid green pitch at Kanpur. The change came about only when the Indian spinners gained purchase from the wickets in Nagpur and Cuttack, and it was Maninder Singh's astonishing improvement, plus the accompanying boost to his morale as he got among the wickets, which held the key to the series. Supported well by his spin colleagues against batsmen who were crease-tied and preoccupied with survival, Maninder proved a difficult prospect, and the Sri Lankans' cricket was on a down curve once they lost the second Test by an innings and more than 100 runs.
Although the tour had been hastily rearranged after the government of India came forward to clear the visit, the Sri Lankans had sufficient time in which to prepare for the test by spin which was bound to come once Kapil Dev had accepted that neither he nor his fellow seam bowlers could attain the strike-rate that had featured in India's Tests abroad in the immediately preceding season. But their senior batsmen, especially Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias, never aspired to take control of events. With three left-handers, including the makeshift opener, Ravi Ratnayeke, batting high in the order, it should have been possible for the visitors to counter the left-arm spin of Maninder; instead, they were let down by a lack of temperament, in the case of Asanka Gurusinha and Arjuna Ranatunga, or foxed by Shivlal Yadav's off-spin. On the other hand, Dilip Vengsarkar's masterly batting on these same spinners' pitches was a sparkling counterpoint to the domination by India's bowlers. It was no coincidence that, by the end of the series, Vengsarkar had scored centuries in each of India's last four Test wins - at Lord's and Leeds in 1986, and then in Nagpur and Cuttack. His contribution to those victories was direct and brilliant.
Apart from Ratnayeke, who bowled his medium pace steadily, and Asoka de Silva, whose leg-spin could have been a threat to batsmen less accustomed to spin, Sri Lanka had no bowling capable of controlling the flow of a Test match. Asantha de Mel was but a shadow of his former self, while it was a wasted effort for a young bowler like Graeme Labrooy to indulge in pseudo-intimidatory tactics.
There was slight incident during the Nagpur Test when the Sri Lankans felt that the umpires were tardy in coming to the aid of the fielders with sawdust in wet conditions. Otherwise, it was a tour devoid of controversy. So affected was the visiting team by the loss of the Test series that the one-day series was handed over on a platter, despite the fact that Sri Lanka had won the first match convincingly. It may have been some consolation for Sri Lanka, however, that the emerging players made a greater impact overall than the experienced ones, for from the point of view of the country's cricket, this gave confidence for its future.
Match reports for