Upul Tharanga’s expression was hollow, his eyes were vacant and his lips were mouthing platitudes at the post-match presentation ceremony. Yet, amidst his misery, there was a tinge, just a tinge, of relief. It was over. A long, tiring series, filled with thrashing after thrashing, humiliation after humiliation, was finally over.
Nine-zero. India just never let up. They wiped the floor with the hosts in the Tests, stepped on the accelerator in the One-Day Internationals and never even looked like loosening up in the one-off Twenty20 International in Colombo on Wednesday. In fact, the way Sri Lanka approached their innings – batting like millionaires with reckless abandon, it almost seemed as if they were the team who had bossed things around in the tour.
But Virat Kohli’s ruthless, efficient genius meant that Tharanga was only left with that tinge of relief at the presentation ceremony as he watched his counterpart pick up one award after another. India cruised to a seven-wicket win over Sri Lanka in the T20I and in the process, swept the tour 9-0, a margin which has only been seen before once.
India’s wrist spinner gambit is working
Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri’s ploy of using wrist spinners seems to be paying off big time. In the ODI series, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzendra Chahal took eight wickets between them. In the T20I, they operated beautifully in the middle overs to cut Sri Lanka down to size. At times, Yadav was unplayable and Sri Lanka slipped to 113/6 after a strong start.
Axar Patel was also economical, but it seems quite clear now that these two wrist spinners definitely need to play a substantial part in India’s plans for the near future. They may go for runs (Chahal went for 43 off his four overs but took three wickets) but they offer a definite wicket-taking option with batsmen having to take plenty of risks to score against them.
What was up with Sri Lanka’s shot selection?
The most frustrating aspect about Sri Lanka’s batting performance was the mindlessness of it all. Even Twenty20s involving Associate teams have batsmen coming in with some amount of planning and an idea of how to build an innings. Sri Lanka’s plan, however, seemed to be to go out, play some ridiculous shots and hope for the best.
Some of it did – mainly because these are still some talented batsman. Both Niroshan Dickwella and Dilshan Muneweera played plenty of flashy shots – the latter even got a 25-ball 50 but always looked in danger of getting out. In fact, they could have taken a leaf out of Ashan Priyanjan’s book – he started off scratchily, only 13 off his first 18 balls, but held Sri Lanka’s lower order together and ultimately finished with a run-a-ball unbeaten 40.
Manish Pandey makes a strong case
After two strong performances in the last two ODIs of the series, Manish Pandey played another gem on Thursday and has surely pushed himself forward as the strongest contender to solve India’s middle-order muddles. Temperamentally, Pandey has always had the right qualities but it looks he’s finally getting his game into place as well.
Here, he came in at 43/2 and was edgy at the beginning. Both he and Kohli love pinching singles and doubles but there were quite a few close shaves at the beginning of their partnership. But the moment Kohli turned up the volume on the “Chasemaster” record, Pandey also came into his own. He settled into a rhythm with Kohli and quietly unfurled his array of shots, gunning down the chase with precision and deservedly finishing it off, unbeaten on a 52.
Kohli just never gets old
By now, we’ve seen this Kohli innings so many times that it’s become routine, habitual for us. And yet, every time, you see him perform this same, old routine, you can’t help but gush. Oh, those wrists, those incredible wrists, which he flicks to send the ball soaring into acres of empty space. That placement and that timing to geometrically bisect every gap. That switch he can turn on to impose himself on the match situation at a critical juncture. This was a routine Kohli innings. And yet, it will never become old.
With the fastest hands in the world, MS Dhoni can never ever have a quiet match, can he? Yet another quick-silver stumping, another almost stumping, a few quick grins, a comfortable Indian victory...all in all, a good day’s work.