Sri Lanka finally put up the kind of resistance everyone except the Indian team had been hoping for. Their excellent rearguard batting on the final day of the series was notable for more reasons than one. Sri Lanka will be encouraged by the fact that the draw in the Kotla Test was fashioned not by their established stars, but by youngsters still finding their feet at the top level.
Dinesh Chandimal was Sri Lanka’s best batsman on tour and Angelo Mathews the most experienced. Against that backdrop, to see Dhananjaya de Silva and Roshen Silva on debut put their hand up and take up the responsibility of saving the Test was heartening. They showed character and application, but they also backed themselves to play their natural game on an admittedly flat surface. It is clear that there is excellent potential in their batting but, going forward, Sri Lanka must find more wicket-taking options if they are to eye victories rather than face-saving draws.
India got almost everything they wanted out of this series before their tour of South Africa. I say almost because, while they might have desired pitches with grass and bounce, they didn’t get them except in Kolkata where the strip has helped the fast bowlers since it was re-laid. Having said that, almost the entire batting unit except Ajinkya Rahane stacked up big runs with Virat Kohli clearly the leader of the pack. The skipper finished with more than 600 runs, an outstanding achievement in a three-Test series. For me, however, the highlights were the performances of Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma. India need an in-form, confident Vijay heading to South Africa, and the opener celebrated his return to Test cricket after eight months with back-to-back hundreds. Rohit had been out for even longer, and his consistent run is a good sign ahead of the stiffer challenges.
I thought Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma were outstanding. Ishant has worked very hard and that has translated into an excellent wrist position that also allows him to bowl a bit fuller. This is easily the best I have seen him bowl. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were somewhat blunted by the Kotla strip. I know people will talk about their inability to bowl Sri Lanka out on a final-day pitch, but you have to give credit where it is due — in this case, to the Sri Lankan batsmen.
The one area India must improve in is the close-in catching. For a side that prides itself on fitness and ground fielding, India’s slip catching in particular has been poor for a while now. It is important that they identify people to man the slips, and then persist with them so that they get better. Even the best will put down catches, but that doesn’t mean immediately taking them off. Slip-catching will be a crucial component overseas, and if India are to remain the No 1 team they are, they can’t afford to give top batsmen a second chance.