V.V.S. Laxman's sensational unbeaten hundred that enabled India level the three-Test series on the final day should not mask the side's bowling weaknesses. The top-ranked Test team in the world should, ideally, possess greater depth in its bowling resources. Statistics do not tell the complete story but the figures here suggest that India is fortunate to end the series with a 1-1 scoreline.
The Sri Lankan bowlers occupied the top three spots for the series. Promising off-spinner Suraj Randiv scalped 11 batsmen at 34.90. Slinger Lasith Malinga fired out 10 batsmen at 27.30 and spin legend
Muttiah Muralitharan, who retired from Tests after the first match at Galle, took eight wickets at 23.87.
In contrast, India's most successful bowler in the series, left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, picked up eight wickets in three Tests at 64.37.
Interestingly, occasional off-spinner Virender Sehwag, the next best Indian bowler, grabbed seven wickets at 27.57. Paceman Ishant Sharma's seven scalps came at 61.71. His new ball partner, Abhimanyu Mithun, removed six batsmen at 62.00.
India's spin spearhead Harbhajan Singh, who missed the last Test because of a calf strain, claimed just two wickets at 152.00. Ahead of the vital home series against Australia, India clearly has bowling worries. Even if pace ace Zaheer Khan makes a complete recovery from injury, the Indian bowling needs to get its act together.
Following the departure of the formidable Anil Kumble, Harbhajan has moved into a more central role. The off-spinner's bowling at Galle – the pitch provided a measure of help to the spinners – was disappointing. He did not quite bowl the right line and tended to push the ball through. Harbhajan is so much the better bowler when he flights around the off-stump, getting the ball to grip and turn.
For someone with over 300 Test wickets and dollops of experience in different conditions, he should have bowled better on a placid surface at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) ground too. Use of the crease, variations in pace which includes deceptive flight and subtle changes in length were the missing elements in his bowling.
Accomplished spinners do not always rely on the pitch for assistance. These bowlers can deceive the batsmen in the air. And they can plot and set the batsmen up with clever manipulations in field placements.
In fact, there were times in this series when Sehwag appeared India's best spinner.
That left-handers Kumar Sangakkara and Tharanga Paranavitana came up with successive hundreds in the first two Tests does not quite reflect well on Harbhajan's bowling. If the senior off-spinner in the side struggles against the southpaws, the less experienced spinners, who turn the ball away from the right-hander, have even less chance.
Ojha bowled better in the last Test when there some assistance for him from the surface at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium but has a fair distance to travel in the longer format. Importantly, Ojha needs to develop the arm-ball. In the third Test, he sent down a few sliders but not the arm-ball.
Leg-spinner Amit Mishra has to be quicker off the surface. The fizz off the pitch – a critical ingredient in a leg-spinner's repertoire – was missing in Mishra's bowling. Is he imparting enough revolutions on the ball that enables the ball to dip and hiss off the track?
The lanky Ishant Sharma operated to a better line in the last Test but overused the short-pitched ball and forgot the yorker against the tail-enders. The young Mithun showed heart and commitment but needs to have a base speed of at least 130 kmph.
Rahul Dravid had an ordinary series averaging just 19.00. However, in his last three series for India, against New Zealand (away), Sri Lanka (home) and Bangladesh (away), this quality batsman has averaged 62.80, 108.25, and 69.50 respectively. Accomplished batsmen such as Dravid cannot be judged on the basis of one series. It is true that, both, Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar are 37 and Laxman is only two years younger. India, over the next three years, will have to go through the transitional phase. Yet, there is little need to rush through the process. India would need all the three senior batsmen on the major campaign in Australia late next year.
Of course, the marauding Sehwag will be around too. Sehwag's batting and his rate of scoring were highly influential in the series. He gathered 348 runs at 69.60 (strike-rate 97.47). And Suresh Raina was a definite gain for India. More than his 223 runs in two Tests at a whopping 111.50, the strokeful left-hander showed he had the mind to cope with a pressure situation.