On the third and last day, Indian bowlers failed to emulate their second day’s showing against Sri Lanka Board’s President XI, who trailed by 410 runs at the start of their second innings. Earlier, they had bowled out India for a paltry 180 runs in less than 60 overs. First innings bowling, hero Ishant Sharma remained wicket-less in the second. Not only that, Ishant bowled 4 no balls and yielded 33 in the 6 overs that he bowled. It has happened earlier with Ishant, who had tended to become inconsistent after a short burst of good bowling spell. Whatever the captain and coach think, India erred by including 7 specialist bowlers in the second innings with prior arrangement in a match that had no official status. With Ajinkya Rahane not to play another time in the match, India’s batting was considerably weakened and it showed in their second innings score. When the hosts came on to chase 411 required for victory, India’s bowling was off-color as well. Except Ravichandran Ashwin’s 3/38, the rest of the bowling didn’t work. With the first test at Galle less than three days away, India should adopt a more conventional approach rather than being over-confident about their batting and employing too many bowlers.
India began well in their warm-up match against SLBP XI and over the first two days, looked a dominant side. Riding on a 100-plus opening stand between Lokesh Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane’s fine century, India scored 351, all out. When SLBP XI came to bat, Ishant Sharma destroyed their batting with a fiery spell that resulted in first 5 wickets falling for just 10 runs. Ishant began his spell by shattering Dhananjay de Silva’s stumps with the first ball and trapping Kaushal Silva LBW with the last. On the first ball of innings’ third over, Ishant removed Upul Tharanga as another LBW victim and on second and third deliveries of the eighth over, Ishant accounted for Lahiru Thirimanne and Kusal Perera. 10/5 became 51/7 but Danushka Gunathilaka and Niroshan Dickwella prevented further destruction by forking out an impressive 63-run stand for the eighth wicket. SLBP XI were finally all out for 121 and India gained a healthy 230-run first-innings lead.
India’s second innings’ performance was a matter of concern. They had opted for 7 bowlers and the batsmen failed. Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli opened but were taken out cheaply. With Wriddhiman Saha also getting out India were reduced to 28/3 by the 11th over. Though Cheteshwar Pujara and Lokesh Rahul produced an 84-run fourth wicket stand, it was not enough. Once these two got out, others fell like nine pins. Only a knock of 37 runs from Bhuvneshwar Kumar helped India reach 180 all out in the second innings, after they stood at 112/3 at one stage.
SLBP XI had a 411-run target for victory and they conducted themselves pretty well. Instead of trying a win, they helped themselves to a much-needed match practice. India played all its bowlers on the tour but except Ashwin, none of them looked like taking wickets. Ishant Sharma was particularly ineffective. He bowled 4 no-balls and his short balls were thrashed by SLBP XI batsmen. Kaushal Silva struck form with an unbeaten 83 and Upul Tharanga crossed fifty. Sri Lanka’s major concern was the failure of Lahiru Thirimanne in both innings ahead of the first test at Galle.
For Kohli and company, the problems are multiple. While the bowling doesn’t look so bad, India’s batting will be a major issue. Their most consistent overseas test match performer, Murali Vijay is still not 100% fit. He suffered a hamstring strain during the team’s recent ODI series in Zimbabwe and couldn’t be included in the warm-up match. Team physio is working hard to ensure that Vijay regains full fitness before the first test beginning on August 12, 2015. The other issue is Virat Kohli himself. He hasn’t been among runs lately and his scores of 8 and 18 in the two innings of the warm-up game are far from inspiring. Ishant Sharma’s 5-wicket haul may be counter-productive for India in a test match situation because it may prompt Kohli to over-bowl Ishant. With the way he performed in the second innings yesterday, he could possibly help Sri Lanka more than the other way round.