Total domination by India, meek submission from Lanka
The Lankas have indeed looked like a shadow of their former self. However, to single out their bad form as the reason for India's tour white wash would be stealing credit from Virat Kohli's men, writes Sridhar Venkatesh.
With a thumping seven-wicket win in the lone T20 international on Wednesday, India completed a full-fledged white wash against the hosts Sri Lanka across all three formats of the gentleman's game. Many factors can be attributed towards India's thoroughly dominant performance against their sub-continental neighbours, the least of which is not the fact that the Lankan side which hosted India was a highly inexperienced squad.
In four of the five ODIs, India was put to chase the Sri Lankan side's rather meagre targets, all below the now considered to be regular above 250 mark. In the fourth ODI, Sri Lanka had to bat second to chase a monumental target of 376 in 50 overs set by India. The Lankan lions floundered from the start itself, with openers Niroshan Dickwella and Dilshan Munaweera – playing only his second ODI – fell for paltry scores of 14 and 11, respectively. The experienced all-rounder Angelo Mathews did try to resist the Indian bowling attack by scoring 70, but he found no support from his teammates. Youngsters Kusal Mendis and Wanindu Hasaranga could not do much with the bat either, leading to a meek collapse, with the team getting all out for just 207 in 42.4 overs.
Throughout the five ODIs, none of the Sri Lankan top order batsmen showed consistency. Not one batsman scored a ton and only four of them had scores of fifty runs of above, namely Dickwella, Milinda Siriwardana, Lahiru Thirimane, and Mathews. Even the experienced likes of Chamara Kapugedera and Upul Tharanga failed to rescue the team when some stability was needed in the Lankan innings.
In the wake of the 3-0 drubbing at the hands of India in the Test series, Sri Lanka's coach Nic Pothas expressed his frustration with the selection process. His predecessor Graham Ford, however, was less vocal about the confusion over the selection of players and had a decent 15 months, till he resigned in June. One of the main reasons for Ford's resignation was believed to be repeated intervention from Asanka Gurusinha, the team's manager, in the former's coaching affairs. In fact, Ford's contract was supposed to last till the 2019 ICC World Cup, if not for constant meddling by Gurusinha(reportedly), who is also one of the selectors of the national team.
Selection problems have been plaguing Sri Lankan cricket for a while now. And on August 29, these problems reached the hilt when the five member selection panel, led by former skipper Sanath Jayasuriya, tendered their resignation en masse. At this point, the Lions had already conceded the ODI series after losing the first three games. Fans, too, have been disappointed, to say the least, with many throwing plastic bottles at the pitch during the third ODI. The Lankan team has indeed looked like a shadow of their former self. However, to single out their bad form as the reason for India's tour white wash would be stealing credit from Virat Kohli's men. Sri Lanka has always been a happy hunting ground for Kohli, and he proved it true during his second tour to the island as captain.
During the three Tests, India was domineering from the very start, batting first in all three games and setting up mammoth totals. The series' highest scorer and Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan was top notch, scoring two tons in four innings that he played. Middle-order walls Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane were solid as always, both getting a century in the series as well. The sting in the Indian tail, however, was a pleasant surprise, with the likes of all-rounder Hardik Pandya scoring a brilliant more-than-a-run-a-ball ton in the third Test.
Once India's stellar batting line-up set up the wall, the Sri Lankan batsmen were then ripped apart one by one by India's bowling attack. As expected, spinners Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav reaped the best out of the sub-continental conditions and tore through the Lankan top order. Even seamers Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, and all-rounder Hardik Pandya got to scalp a few. In terms of ODI performances, Kohli showed why he and his team are a force to reckon with. He proved his authority with the bat by hitting an unbeaten 82 in the first ODI and two centuries in the last two games. The skipper also scored a quickfire 82 off just 54 balls in the only T20 to give India a comfortable win, chasing a score of 171. Opening batsman Dhawan, once again showed his class in the ODI series, scoring a ton in the first and hitting a run-a-ball 49 in the second ODI. His partner-in-crime Rohit Sharma had a relatively better outing, with a fifty and two dominating centuries over the five games.
The highlight of the ODI series, as was seen in the three Tests, was the Indian middle order. A reborn Mahendra Singh Dhoni steadied the Indian ship, whenever the Sri Lankan bowling attack whipped up a storm. In his four innings, Dhoni remained unbeaten every single time. He may have scored just one fifty, but that statistic does no justice to his brilliance. The former Indian skipper's intelligence was on display in the second ODI, when the match seemed to be getting out of India's hands, after K L Rahul, Kedar Jadhav and Kohli were dismissed in quick succession, by the wily off-spinner Akila Dananjaya. Coming to the crease after Kohli's dismissal, Dhoni decided to take charge of the game. But this was not the usual way people had seen him. Calm as never before, Dhoni fended off the 24-year-old off-spinner's variations in the air and surprising googlies by taking singles and twos. It was Bhuvneshwar Kumar, surprisingly, who stole the show by taking the majority of the strike and scoring a match winning 53, with four boundaries and a six. Dhoni was content with his relaxed 45 not out, having led the team to victory, as he often has.
The series also was responsible for Dhoni attaining some incredible milestones, including his 300th ODI cap. In the fifth ODI, Dhoni recorded his 100th stumping in an ODI game, the highest by any wicketkeeper in the history of the shorter format. Dhoni's unbeaten 49 in the fourth ODI was the 73rd instance he remained not out in an ODI game, also the highest for any batsman in ODIs.
Meanwhile, Kohli scored his 30th ODI century in the fifth ODI, becoming the joint second-highest in the list of century makers. While the Delhi batsman's form with the bat showed no signs of deteriorating, it was his astute captaincy throughout the series that won plaudits from everyone. Young chinaman Kuldeep Yadav, who played in the last two ODIs to scalp three wickets, has praised the skipper's rotation policy during the tour. It is this policy that gave both youngsters – like him and Axar Patel – and experienced work horses like Jadhav and Yuzhvendra Chahal opportunities in the ODIs to show their skills.