In the absence of the rested Virat Kohli, this was a wonderful opportunity for the Indian batting unit to show the world that there was more to them than just their inspirational captain. Unfortunately, and even though the conditions were stacked against them, they failed to deliver the goods.
While the temptation to dismiss this as a one-off can be overwhelming, India have found the going difficult in tricky conditions. It happened against Australia in Chennai this year, in the T20 game against the same opponents in Guwahati and in the T20 match against Sri Lanka in Pune last year, and that is an area that needs addressing.
It is hard to shake off the feeling that the team is too reliant on Virat and on the opening combine. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, in his first match as India captain, received very good deliveries, but the same can’t be said of some of the other batsmen. It was left to Mahendra Singh Dhoni to show them the way.
‘MS’ was proactive from the time he came to the middle, using his feet in a bid to throw the bowlers off their rhythm. He showed the intelligence and the adaptability which comes with experience, but also realised that you can’t just remain scoreless, just as he had done in Chennai and in Pallekele against Sri Lanka in August.
The pitch in Dharamsala wasn’t ideal for one-day cricket. There was more lateral movement and for longer than expected, but it is exactly these situations that test not just your skill, but also temperament and character. ‘MS’ drew from having played 300 ODIs, but the others aren’t entirely new apart from Shreyas Iyer and will all do well to take a leaf out of the former skipper’s book. That being said, they were also up against excellent bowling, Suranga Lakmal reiterating his standing as a quality bowler.
India’s only chance after being bowled out for 112 was to strike through their excellent new-ball pair of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah. While they did pick up two early wickets, Bumrah’s no-ball that threw Upul Tharanga a lifeline decisively tilted the momentum in Sri Lanka’s favour. It wasn’t the first costly no-ball from Bumrah — Fakhar Zaman in the Champions Trophy final comes to mind — and it must be sorted out immediately before it becomes a bad habit hard to get rid of.
The initiative in a three-match series is clearly with the side which takes the early lead, but India can derive encouragement from having defeated New Zealand 2-1 in October from a similar position. The one big difference, however, is that the influential Virat isn’t around this time.
This is a real test of character for captain Rohit, and his somewhat new-look batting group.