For India’s cricketers, especially the batsmen, it is not easy to forget what they did on the fourth day of the Galle test. As they arrived in Colombo for the second test beginning next Thursday, the memories of that woeful disaster kept chasing them. Ten remaining batsmen could not stand up to Rangana Herath on the last day, when they required just 153 for victory. Apart from Herath’s inspired bowling performance, responsibility of India’s 63-run loss lay squarely on the batsmen’s shoulders. Whatever one says about India’s batting strength, most batsmen defended Herath rather than trying to find a way to score against him. On third day, Chandimal proved that it was possible to play at Galle’s spinning track. Every Indian cricketer was on the field as Chandimal thrashed the bowlers. They could have followed his example and scoring at the rate of run-a-ball was not necessary! With two days left for the second test, time for introspection is running out. The captain and team director Ravi Shastri had a press meet on Monday at team hotel, where Shastri answered questions. With his long experience as cricketer, commentator and master of cricketing ceremonies, Shastri was articulate. Many of his answers were generic but he still insisted that despite the loss in the first test, Team India was determined to be aggressive in its approach.
Colombo’s Taj Samudra hotel was a beehive of activities on Monday. The imposing figure of Ravi Shastri with Indian captain Virat Kohli in tow arrived for a media session. Unlike many coaches and cricket managers, Shastri was not reticent and protective. Instead, he was forthright in stating that India would not give up their attacking stance. He was a picture of strength and didn’t allow the Galle disaster take precedence during the press conference. However, Shastri’s masterly media show cannot hide the fact that doleful batting from India’s batsmen resulted in Sri Lanka stealing a victory that couldn’t have been foreseen until the third day.
Before the first test, there was some talk about match fitness of star opener Murali Vijay but for most part, Kohli’s 5-bowler strategy took the precedence. When Kohli and his boys succeeded in the first innings, it appeared India were on the right track. What missed from cricketing analyses was India’s failure to build the innings from 255/2. Kohli had confidently talked about the batting skills of his lower order batsmen. Ideally India should have gone past 450 from that stage but their last 8 wickets could only add 120. Traditionally, the Indian team is known more for the batting strength and they have lost most of their test matches in the last few years because of poor bowling. Absence of a world-class bowler in the Indian squad is still alarming. They don’t have any one in the class of Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Shane Warne or Muralitharan, who can cause a scare. On first day at Galle, India had reduced Sri Lanka to 60/5 but Sri Lanka’s last 5 wickets added another 123. That means despite breakthroughs early on, the bowlers became largely ineffective. But Indians were still in the game until the third day and only the batting let them down. Therefore, they must concentrate on strengthening the batting rather than keep harping about the 5-bowler strategy that couldn’t find its mark in the Galle opener. It is a good thing that Shastri talked about including Stuart Binny in the squad for the Colombo test. That is also an admission on their part that India was one batsman short at Galle. But Stuart Binny is not Stuart Broad and there lies the problem. As for India’s bowling, the less one talks about it, the better.