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End of an Odyssey

End of an  Odyssey
Cricket in India is a religion. <g data-gr-id="73">There’s</g> absolutely no two ways about it. The players who <g data-gr-id="74">don</g> the peacock blue jersey occupy a very special place in the hearts of the Indian masses. Their triumph in any form of the sport brings everyone from different walks of life under one common umbrella while their losses raise a collective groan. For cricket, India always stands united. So, one can only imagine the magnitude of revelry when a 22-year old drought in Sri Lankan soil was brought to an end in the recently concluded India-Sri Lanka test series.

Up until this year, Sri Lanka was unstoppable against team India in their home soil for 22 long years. They were the proverbial Kryptonite to India’s Supermen in their home turf. India had last successfully clinched a series against the Lankan lions in Sri Lanka back in 1993. After that, it was a long and painful wait. Even the demi-god, Sachin Tendulkar or captain cool M S Dhoni with their star-studded resumes could not overcome Sri Lanka on their home soil. Indian fans had to wait patiently for the day when finally the Sri Lankan resistance would be shattered. 

In 2015 the day finally arrived and a 22-year-old journey culminated in a series win. This was not just a victory over Sri Lanka, rather it was a victory over all the naysayers who had started ringing the panic bells when the new blood infused India lost to Sri Lanka in the first test match of the series.
The series will also be remembered as the farewell series for Sri Lankan ace Kumar Sangakkara. When India collapsed in the first test after staying in control for over three days, the island of Sri Lanka thought the tale of Kumar Sangakkara would have a fairytale ending in Colombo where an Indian team with their backs against the wall would play Sri Lanka in the second test of the series. Already 0-1 up in the three test series, the hosts wanted to wrap the series up in Colombo and give Sangakkara the farewell he deserves. After <g data-gr-id="89">all</g> they had restricted India to their second ever lowest total of 112 while chasing a measly target of 153 and were brimming with confidence. Fate and India <g data-gr-id="88">though,</g> had other plans.

With the weight of an entire cricket crazy nation on their shoulders, team India was in a do or die situation once the second test rolled in. It’s always a rather daunting task trying to make a comeback from <g data-gr-id="80">0-1</g> but India were prepared to scratch and claw their way back into the series and that showed on <g data-gr-id="79">field</g>. After being bowled out for 393 in their first innings, India looked to restrict Sri Lanka at a relatively low score and they succeeded in doing just that when Sri Lankan innings ended with just 306 runs on board. India would go into the 4th day with a 157 run lead and would <g data-gr-id="77">capitalise</g> on that lead by declaring the innings at 412 runs thus leading by 370 runs. Ajinkya Rahane (126) compiled his fourth ton while Murali Vijay adding 82 runs.

The Indian spinners would spearhead the comeback in the 5th day. Building on the hard work of the batsmen, the Indian bowlers would pay the Sri Lankan batsmen in kind. Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra spun <g data-gr-id="96">a web</g> around Sri Lanka to skittle them out for 134 runs in the second innings to win the second cricket Test by 278 runs. Sri Lanka who were130/9 at lunch on the fifth day could add only four runs to their total in the post-lunch session enabling India to level the series at 1-1 at the P. Sara Oval ground. Ashwin returned figures of <g data-gr-id="93">5-42,</g> while his-teammate leggie Mishra grabbed 3-29 to complete India’s resounding victory. For the departing Sangakkara, who received the Guard of Honour from the two teams, the series was a bittersweet experience. Having won the first test, he would certainly have liked his team to wrap up the series with another win.

With the series balanced delicately on a knife’s edge, the all-important third test also in Colombo at the SSC was poised to decide the fate of the series. India looked to win their first series on foreign soil in 4 years as well as to break the 22-year-old series undefeated streak that Sri Lanka held against them at home while the Sri Lankans had only one sole purpose and that was to win at any cost. If they did, they would hang on to their fabled streak but if they lost, they would be remembered as the team who were defeated by India at home after 22 long years. India had everything to gain while Sri Lanka had everything to lose. With the weight of expectations of a whole nation on their shoulders, this Indian team was feeling the pressure but their face did not show it. After making a resounding comeback from being 0-1 down, the players knew that if they win this test they would bring in a new dawn in Indian cricket. India went on to score 312 in the first innings with Pujara’s 145 leading the roost after another top-order collapse. 

On the bowling front Ishant’s 5 for 54, bowled the hosts out for 201 to give the visitors a crucial 111-run lead. The second innings also saw the top-order Indian batsmen throwing away their wickets cheaply but resistant batting from the middle and the lower order batsmen like Rohit (50) and Ashwin (58) helped India to reach 274 runs thereby setting a target of 385 for the hosts which in the end proved a little too much for the island natives.

Late on Sri Lanka gave India a real scare as Mathews and Perera looked to give the hosts a fighting chance to actually chase down the total. With the haunting memories of the Galle test returning to the Indian team where they let the match slip from between their fingers, Ishant took out Mathews in the first over after last day’s tea session and eased the nerves of the Indians. 

Mathews made 110, his seventh Test century and the second in successive matches after scoring 102 in the second Test, The southpaw Perera followed his 55 in the first innings with 70, becoming only the second Sri Lankan after Dinesh Chandimal to score two half-centuries in his debut Test and looked set for a bigger score before getting dismissed by Ashwin. India grabbed the last five wickets for 26 runs after Sri Lanka were sailing at a comfortable 242-5 before Perera’s dismissal. Sri Lanka began the final session with a reasonable hope of surpassing the difficult target -- needing 137 runs more with a possible 36 overs remaining but India tightened the screws after tea to emerge victorious by 117 runs thereby clinching the series 2-1.

The win marked the first series win for Virat Kohli as the captain of the Indian team as well as the end of a 22-year Odyssey of trying to <g data-gr-id="85">trying</g> to defeat Sri Lanka in the home ground. Pujara who 145 built the foundation of the historic win was named <g data-gr-id="83">man</g> of the match while Ashwin bagged the man of the series award for his haul of 21 wickets in three tests. The names of the whole squad will be etched in gold in the annals of Indian cricketing history as a result of this historic win. Whatever the future holds for them, they will always be remembered as the team who ended a 22-year long wait of an entire cricket crazy nation.

Virat Kohli: “We have created history”
When India last won a test series against Sri Lanka in 1993, Virat Kohli was just four years old in the game. In 2015, a 26-year-old Kohli captained India to a first series win on <g data-gr-id="320">Sri</g> Lankan soil after 22 years. A place where greats such as Sourav Ganguly, Sachin <g data-gr-id="319">Tendulkar</g> and M S Dhoni have failed to guide India to a series win, Kohli with his team has achieved that exact feat. With question marks raised on his leadership abilities due to his fiery temperament before the first ball was even bowled in the series, Virat had only one chance to prove his mettle. While taking over the mantle from a player like M S Dhoni’s stature was always going to be hard, Kohli took it up as a challenge.

The start of the campaign was not a pleasant one for the skipper as India lost the first test to Sri Lanka as Herath took seven wickets to demolish India at 112 in 49.5 overs while chasing a meager total of 153. This was India’s lowest ever total against Sri Lanka. The critics had a field day, writing off the Indian side along with Kohli. With pressure mounting India went into the second test in Colombo 0-1 down and miraculously won the match and silenced the critics as well as leveled the series at 1-1. Hope returned and Kohli that they were standing at the threshold of making history. If they succeeded they would be immortals but if they didn’t the critics would rear their heads again.
While the heroics of Pujara with the bat and Ashwin with the ball as well as the bat put India in the driver’s seat, the combustible Ishant Sharma was the one who took the most important wicket of Mathews after tea to hand India the 117 runs victory.

The masterstroke of playing five bowlers paid off, with India taking all 60 Sri Lanka wickets over six innings. And while there wasn’t the same chopping and changing with the bowlers, the load was similarly shared. An elated Kohli said that clinching an away series against Sri Lanka after 22 years is a “magnificent milestone”. “Being 0-1 down was never easy. I was told it has never been done (winning away from home) so we created a bit of history. Even the guys who haven’t played, guys like Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar Kumar) and Varun (Aaron) and Bhajji (Harbhajan Singh), a senior, who has run around and helped everyone,” revealed the Indian test skipper.

The 26-year-old added that everyone played their part in the win and also praised players like Cheteshwar Pujara who came into the side as a replacement and then grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
Sayak Dutta

Sayak Dutta

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