Tour review

India v Sri Lanka, 2009-10

Nagraj Gollapudi

Test matches (3): India 2, Sri Lanka 0
One-day internationals (5): India 3, Sri Lanka 1
Twenty20 internationals (2): India 1, Sri Lanka 1

Virender Sehwag goes on the rampage, India v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Mumbai, 2nd day, December 3, 2009
Virender Sehwag was at his relentless best in the series © AFP

The Sri Lankans slipped into India while the country was busy gushing over their most celebrated son, Sachin Tendulkar, completing 20 years in international cricket. It was a happy distraction, as the visitors did not mind being left alone to prepare for their series. But Kumar Sangakkara did get peeved when the media harassed him at every opportunity for a quote on Tendulkar. Reluctantly, rolling his eyes, and nodding in disbelief, the Sri Lankan captain doled out some cliche´d compliments. His irritation had much to do with the fact that the media seemed to have forgotten that Sri Lanka were the world's second-ranked Test team, only a touch behind South Africa.

But Sangakkara understood well enough that the tour would test his side's mettle. India had lost only two Test series at home in the 21st century. Since losing to South Africa early in 2000, they had played 15 further series, with 11 victories, four draws and one loss. The only defeat came against one of the best of all Australian sides, in 2004-05, when Ricky Ponting's men captured the "final frontier". Sri Lanka themselves had toured India six times over the previous 27 years, playing 14 Tests - and had yet to win one.

Sangakkara, who has studied law, knew the best way to relieve the pressure would be to divert attention. Asked if the pressure was on his young team, he countered that India had just lost a one-day series to an under-strength Australian side. Obviously he knew he was up against it, leading a mostly young and inexperienced squad. Only four of the others had played Tests in India: Tillekeratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene, Muttiah Muralitharan and Thilan Samaraweera. None of them had made a Test century there, while Murali's bowling average of 39.58 in India was his second-worst overseas, after Australia (75.41). Without the long-serving Chaminda Vaas to lead their fast bowling, Sri Lanka's attack looked unfamiliar, but nonetheless it had variety.

Even if they were short on experience, Thilan Thushara Mirando, Nuwan Kulasekara, Dammika Prasad, Chanaka Welagedara and the burgeoning all-rounder Angelo Mathews constituted a healthy pace battery, while the spin trio of Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis and slow left-armer Rangana Herath was full of variety and promise on paper. To add to the tension, this was also Sri Lanka's first Test series abroad since the tragic events in Lahore in March. So they remained alert, and let it be known when they felt they did not have adequate security on their way to training during the warm-up game in Mumbai.

But by the time they arrived in Ahmedabad for the First Test any insecurity had moved to the field of play, after injuries to the first-choice new-ball pair of Mirando and Kulasekara. However, Welagedara answered his captain's call after being drafted in at the last minute, and immediately had the Indians under the cosh at 32 for four, until Rahul Dravid audaciously plucked them out of danger. That first hour was the only eventful one in the entire game, the rest of which was played out on an unresponsive pitch.

For the Second Test at Kanpur, the Sri Lankan think tank opted for a threepronged spin attack, which backfired miserably as Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan showed that even if the Green Park pitch was slow and low, seamers were still a better bet. In Mumbai, Mendis was replaced by Kulasekara, but on a captivating second day, the magic of Virender Sehwag would have spelled doom for the best.

The most important revelation for Sri Lanka was that they came to understand what life would be like without their talisman, Muralitharan, who entered the series needing a further 17 wickets to become the first bowler to take 800 in Tests. By the end Murali was reduced to a net bowler, and managed just nine wickets at a forgettable average of 65. Herath was the best of the visiting bowlers, daring to flight the ball even on placid tracks and teasing the batsmen.

Muttiah Muralitharan went wicketless on the second day, India v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Kanpur, 2nd day, November 25, 2009
Muttiah Muralitharan struggled against India's batsmen © AFP

Despite the decline of Murali, Sri Lanka have in Herath and Mendis - if he can find his mojo again - two spinners who could carry forward the legacy that Muralitharan established over some 15 years. Two other players emerged from the series with reputations enhanced. Dilshan and Mathews have the potential and positive intent that could form the backbone of Sri Lanka's batting over the next few years. The experienced Dilshan showed his skills were more varied and higher than just his scoopshot, a raging Twenty20 hit. His two hundreds in Ahmedabad and Mumbai strengthened the opinion that he had successfully filled the gap left by the retirement of Sanath Jayasuriya.

Mathews showed that he was hungry to learn, and even cried when he missed his maiden century in Mumbai by just one run. He bounced back with some lively spells of pace bowling and, if groomed properly, has the potential to become a top-class batting all-rounder. If Sri Lanka were trying to find their feet on shifting sands, India had a more settled outlook. It was no surprise that they climbed to the top of the rankings through this series win.

As Gary Kirsten later declared, India had been rehearsing for the occasion for the previous 21 months, ever since he took charge as head coach. Victories, both home and away, have allowed India to build a battle-hardened side that can take care of any situation. Hence Murali Vijay, who was brought back for his second Test a year after his debut, charged Muralitharan confidently and hit him for six to reach a maiden half-century in Mumbai.

Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were hailed during 2009 as the best opening combination India have ever had. Even more than that, though, they have proved consistently that they are individual match-winners first. Gambhir started 2009 with his Napier marathon, and continued to build on that with four centuries in successive matches in which he played (he added a fifth against Bangladesh early in 2010). Sehwag finished the year with two memorable innings; not only his tour de force in Mumbai, where he nearly became only the second man to score 300 in a day's play in a Test, but also his spectacular century at Kanpur, which helped India breach the 400-mark in a day.

Ian Chappell has already called him the new Bradman and Sehwag is not blushing yet. The one-day series, which ended in farce on a dreadful pitch at Delhi, proved little beyond the fact that both sides still had a lot of work to do to challenge for top spot in the 50-over format. The most obvious area where India and Sri Lanka currently trailed Australia and South Africa was in the fielding. It could prove to be one of the most important factors in determining the outcome of the 2011 World Cup, but these games showed that neither of these South Asian neighbours was yet fit enough.

Match reports for

Tour Match: Indian Board President's XI v Sri Lankans at Mumbai, Nov 11-13, 2009

1st Test: India v Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad, Nov 16-20, 2009
Report | Scorecard

2nd Test: India v Sri Lanka at Kanpur, Nov 24-27, 2009

3rd Test: India v Sri Lanka at Mumbai (BS), Dec 2-6, 2009

1st T20I: India v Sri Lanka at Nagpur, Dec 9, 2009

2nd T20I: India v Sri Lanka at Mohali, Dec 12, 2009

1st ODI: India v Sri Lanka at Rajkot, Dec 15, 2009

2nd ODI: India v Sri Lanka at Nagpur, Dec 18, 2009

3rd ODI: India v Sri Lanka at Cuttack, Dec 21, 2009

4th ODI: India v Sri Lanka at Kolkata, Dec 24, 2009

5th ODI: India v Sri Lanka at Delhi, Dec 27, 2009

© John Wisden & Co.