Match Analysis

India get away with batting errors

At another time, India might have been pushed into a corner after going for shots and losing 6 for 141 but insurance in the form of the lower order and a strong bowling attack could remedy the batting slump

"I was saying jokingly that if you bat like a king, you should also get out like a king, you should not be dismissed like a soldier. If you have made runs aggressively, then you will get out that way too. That's how it is. I know I am an aggressive batsman, so I would rather get out that way than getting out in the slips and being defensive because that is not my natural game."
Those are Shikhar Dhawan's words at the end of a first day in Pallekele where India won the toss and went from 188 for 0 to 329 for 6 at stumps. Not only did the wickets fall, the scoring rate came down too. However, there were no patterns and build-ups to these wickets, the sort you see in Test cricket. One thing common to five of those wickets was that they fell playing shots. KL Rahul trying to clear mid-on on 85, Dhawan sweeping after scoring a fine hundred, Cheteshwar Pujara looking to late-cut a left-arm wristpinner against the turn, Ajinkya Rahane playing across the line and against the spin of a left-arm orthodox delivery that went straight on, and Virat Kohli driving the wristspinner away from the body.
Like kings, in other words. That should be true of Dhawan, who bats like that ("when I was failing, I was caught in a defensive mindset; now I express myself"), but can't and shouldn't be true of all. Especially when the rest of the batting line-up relies on taking risk out of batting. When Sri Lanka kept sweeping the ball in Colombo, with two batsmen scoring hundreds when following-on, Kohli praised their batting but also called the sweep a "high-risk" shot.
You can understand Dhawan and Rahul getting out the way they did because they were looking to dominate, but the shots that the next three played were not the best given the situation and given how they were not into fluent innings. Especially Rahane, who struggled to pick which way Lakshan Sandakan was turning the ball. Dhawan did say that picking Sandakan was difficult - as tends to be the case with left-arm wristspinners.
"The chinaman bowler is very nice," Dhawan said. "He was turning the ball; one odd ball was turning a lot. It's hard to pick his googly also. Specially once we got out, the way he came back and bowled, it was nice for them. Left-arm bowler [Malinda Pushpakumara] is also good and he took wickets today; he has been bowling consistently on the right spot for them."
Dhawan, though, found a way to pick the wrong'un. He realised the ones that turned the other way were considerably slower. Rahane couldn't, but he didn't stop playing his shots. Kohli picked the wrong'un, but seemed to be driving with hard hands through his innings. His wicket shot came against a bowler whose 28 balls he had faced for just 12 runs. Pujara for a change picked the wrong length to cut. There is a case for all three of them to have shown more restraint because, as Dhawan said, these were not unplayable deliveries; in fact they looked harmless.
"We were playing our shots and got out, it was not as if we were getting out because of the wicket or anything," Dhawan said. "We were just playing our shots and got out. After that, the Sri Lankan bowlers bowled well and pulled the match a little bit on their side but we got a decent score and still got good batsmen to go and score more runs tomorrow."
There is a great lesson in there to just keep hanging in when things aren't going your way; this is exactly how India came back on various occasions against England after losing the toss on flat Indian pitches. However, the last few of Dhawan's words are instructive. India still have Wriddhiman Saha. The lower order has hardly ever failed India when they have found themselves in a soup of late. Perhaps Sri Lanka's batting form gives Dhawan extra confidence.
"That happens," Dhawan said of the reversal. "It's not that it has happened for the first time. We got a good start and still feel at the end of the day, 329 is a good score. Those who are batting now are capable of scoring big runs, and it's a wicket where it is not spinning but it doesn't have bounce, so it's not easy to score runs out there and even outfield is not that quick. When Sri Lanka come out to bat, we are going to make sure that we squeeze them hard and not give away easy runs."
At another time, against another Sri Lanka Test side, India might have done enough in these last two sessions to lose a Test. Batting first on a flat pitch that is dry underneath, you really don't want to score runs in the second innings. However, with the lower order that they have, with a superior bowling attack at their disposal, and with not having to bat last in all likelihood, India might just be able to afford a day with so many batting errors.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo