Mahendra Singh Dhoni and comrades deserve commendation for their fightback in Colombo. It was a rotten toss to lose and the Indians might easily have dropped their heads. Instead they worked hard and looked sharper and it took a splendidly defiant ninth-wicket partnership to stop them romping to victory with a day to spare.
Tail-enders' good work
Significantly, the Indian tail-enders made telling contributions with the bat. Without their runs the Lankans might have led by 100 and been under much less pressure. Instead the totals were almost level so the hosts began their second innings in a state of high anxiety.
Lower order rallies remain the most reliable gauge of morale. Committed sides manage to eke out important runs even from the most incompetent bunnies. Dissolute teams throw the last few wickets away and then claim it is up to the specialists to score the runs. But Virender Sehwag was happy enough to contribute with the ball, exactly the attitude tail-enders need with bat in hand. Certainly the locals obliged, supporting Thilan Samaraweera with gusto towards the end of his team's hitherto scratchy second outing.
Admittedly the Lankans helped in their own downfall. Twice Kumar Sangakkara lifted the ball straight to the fieldsmen. His first dismissal was a howler as he lofted a catch to long-on. It's unusual for a batsman of his pedigree to be caught on the boundary in any circumstances, let alone when haste is not required. Perhaps the strain of the last few weeks affected his thinking.
There is an old saying “never decide anything with a tired mind.” Modern Test captains do not enjoy the luxury of freshness. In the second dig the home captain was undone by aggressive tactics as Dhoni kept his fieldsman up at square-leg. Tempted by the prospect of an easy boundary, Sanga tried to pull a presentable delivery and was easily snared.
As a rule captains send their fieldsmen back too early, allowing opponents to push and stroll. Teams that let batsmen take singles at their leisure cannot build pressure. Better to force opponents to work for every run and invite them to try their luck with lofted hits.
Amongst the rest, Tillakaratne Dilshan managed to run himself out before lunch on the opening day and Angelo Mathews directed a full toss to mid-wicket. Only Mahela Jayawardene was unlucky, adjudged leg before in the opening act, beaten by a beauty second time around. He, too, has been scoring a surfeit of runs and sooner or later was bound to come a cropper.
Only Samaraweera remained defiant. He is a fine batsman. Let's not forget that not so long ago he was at death's door. Still, India did show the attitude needed to pounce on these errors. Suresh Raina was a terrier in the field, a relief after Yuvraj's hangdog approach.
At last youth has been given its chance. Both spinners toiled willingly and Pragyan Ojha extracted bounce from a superbly fair pitch. Although Murali Kartik has been taking county wickets, his replacement looks more likely to trouble Test batsmen. Bounce adds venom to the snake.
It was an encouraging performance but the previous matches ought not to be forgotten. Overall the visitors did not attain the expected standard. The batting was mostly effective but the pitches were dead. The bowling and fielding were hardly the stuff of champions. Injuries have been a handicap but that is not the entire story.
India needs to renew its aggression. Otherwise this stint at the top will not last long.