The result wasn’t even a consideration. Not even before the series began. Everyone knew that this Indian team at home (even one at the start of a transition under Rohit Sharma), was far too good for this Sri Lankan team. And it has been that way for a while now. In 22 Tests that Sri Lanka have played in India, they have recorded 13 defeats and ten of those defeats were by an innings.
So it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say fans had a pretty good idea of what was coming their way in terms of results. India needed to do play as they usually do at home Tests. Rohit Sharma’s team did that and more; and the result was a 2-0 series win.
Still, there were a few boxes to be ticked for India given that change is in the air. And it was these tiny bubbles of intent that lent an interesting edge to an otherwise dull series.
Pant the keeper
Away from home, Rishabh Pant has been superb for India. With the bat and behind the wickets too but in India, his keeping is something that everyone keeps a close eye on and if you did that in the Sri Lanka series too, you would have loved the show he put on. The India wicketkeeper looked at ease while keeping to the turning ball. The low bounce was covered well too and so were the snorters.
While his batting was superb and always put the pressure back on the Lankans, it was his keeping that impressed skipper Rohit Sharma even more: “Pant’s keeping was the best that I have seen (from him).”
In the Star Sports Tamil commentary, former India fielding coach R Sridhar commented upon it as well.
Clearly, a lot of hard work has gone into this behind the scenes and we are now starting to see a way more polished version of Pant starting to emerge. If things keep progressing the way they are, the opposition and the fans won’t be able to take their eyes off him.
“He is somebody who can change the game literally in half an hour or 40 minutes of the game. I think what comes with Rishabh Pant, we are ready to accept that,” Sharma said in the press conference after the game.
Pant also became the first Indian wicketkeeper to win the Player of the Series award in Tests as a result of his game-changing knocks and superb keeping.
Ravindra Jadeja lends an easy balance to the team. He can bat like a batter and bowl like a bowler and do both like few others can in the world at the moment.
“We have seen Ravindra Jadeja grow as a batter, and he seems to get better and better. He strengthens the team, and he’s also improving as a bowler. And he’s a gun fielder, so he is a complete package,” Rohit said.
In the first Test at Mohali, Jadeja finished with a match-haul of nine wickets - including a five-for in the first innings - and scored a career-best 175. It was a vital 175 too because the Indian team were in a spot of bother at that point but the ease with which he batted was a clear indication of why he is regarded as one of the best in the world.
For India to consistently perform well in away Tests, Jadeja is important. Rohit knows that too as does Dravid. It gives the team options; play an extra batter or an extra bowler depending on conditions and that can make a world of a difference.
Iyer steps up
Given what Ajinkya Rahane had been offering this Indian side in the middle order over the past year, Shreyas Iyer does feel like a step up in home conditions. His aggression against spin potentially makes him another important cog in the Indian wheel in their own backyard. He seems to now have completely recovered from the after-effects of his injury and there is a fluency in his shot-making now.
His knocks in the second Test, 92 and 67, showed him to be batter who isn’t fazed by tough wickets. Rather, he looks to take on the conditions and take the game forward.
“Shreyas just carried on from where he left off in the T20 series against Sri Lanka,” said skipper Rohit Sharma after the Test. “He seemed to carry that form into the Test series. He knew he was stepping into the big shoes of guys like Rahane and Pujara, but he has everything that he requires. He will be better now when he starts travelling.”
But this still was a home Test and the bigger test will be in away Tests, for that is where Rahane often showed his value for the team. Iyer, with his confidence high, will believe he can counter them too but we’ll only know when he faces those conditions. But for now, all the signs are good.