The third day of any Test match is generally considered the moving day, the day when a clear picture emerges with regard to which way the contest is headed. Long before the middle day of this final Test, it was all too obvious what the destination of this game was going to be. The only question was whether the scheduled middle day would eventually become the final one of the series, or whether Sri Lanka would show rare fight in dragging this non-contest out for a few more hours.
Except for 103 minutes when Dinesh Chandimal, the skipper, and Angelo Mathews, his predecessor, defied the Indian bowlers during a 65-run fifth-wicket partnership, Sri Lanka showed no fight whatsoever. Their spirit having irrevocably been broken by their inexplicable implosion on the second afternoon, they merely went through the motions at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium on Monday (August 14).
Bowled out for 181 in their second dig after having started the day on 19 for 1, 333 shy of making the visitors bat again, Sri Lanka handed India an early Independence Day gift. Victory well inside three days by the mammoth margin of an innings and 171 runs, their second innings win of the series, helped Virat Kohli’s side complete a comprehensive 3-0 sweep. It marked the first time an Indian team had won all Tests overseas in a series involving more than two matches.
What a fabulous way to end the test series! A big hug to the entire team for their outstanding performance. Good luck for the ODI series! pic.twitter.com/HaXfI7dPwo
— sachin tendulkar (@sachin_rt) August 14, 2017
As commendable as that accomplishment might be, and while it is true that you can only do battle against the opposition that you are up against, India will view this result as no more than an affirmation of the massive gulf in quality between the two teams. Sri Lanka were no match for the collective might, hunger, commitment and desire of the world’s No. 1 team; the return series in India in November-December shouldn’t make for the prettiest spectacle.
When the third day’s play started under overcast skies – not even the rain Gods thought it necessary to smile benevolently on the misfiring home side – Sri Lanka’s only hope was to take everything out of the equation and just bat on and on. They had to put the fact that they had lasted only 37.4 overs in the first innings out of their minds. They had to forget that the deficit they had conceded the first time around was an insurmountable 352. They had to disregard the fact that Upul Tharanga, one of their more experienced batsmen, had already been dismissed in the second innings. But how can you forget all this when the mountain in front of you is so gargantuan?
Most wins by a captain after his 1st 29 Tests:
21 – Steve Waugh & Ricky Ponting
19 – VIRAT KOHLI#SLvInd
— Mohandas Menon (@mohanstatsman) August 14, 2017
Their aspirations of stretching the game as long as possible received a body blow off the 15th delivery of the day. Dimuth Karunaratne has made a name for himself as something of a second-innings specialist – in this series alone, he had scores of 97 and 141 in the second innings, and four of his six Test tons have come at the second time of asking – and carried much of Sri Lanka’s defensive hopes. With his second ball of the day, R Ashwin produced a beauty that dipped and then turned late to curl past the left-hand opening batsman’s outside edge. The seed of doubt sowed, Ashwin bowled a quicker, flatter next ball. Karunaratne went back – and away – when he should have gone forward, only his hands and the bat moving in the direction of the ball. The extra bounce got the ball to fizz off the glove to slip, and inside nine minutes, the alarm bells were going bananas in the dressing-room.
Worse was to follow in the next half-hour. Mohammed Shami, well on the way to rediscovering his zing, produced several excellent deliveries during an extended first spell of six overs, two of which accounted for Malinda Pushpakumara, the nightwatchman, and Kusal Mendis, who must learn quickly that sometimes, the situation calls for circumspection, not foolhardiness. Pushpakumara received a beauty from wide of the crease that straightened on pitching and kissed his outside edge on its way to Wriddhiman Saha; more accomplished batsmen might have been sucked in by that delivery, so there was no disgrace in his dismissal.
But Mendis really should have no excuses. Having just slapped Shami for a cracking boundary through point, he walked right across his stumps attempting a pick-up shot. Beaten for pace, he was trapped in front, beginning the long trudge back and assiduously avoiding eye contact with his skipper, a picture of unalloyed frustration and utter helplessness.
Chandimal decided to show the lads how it was done, and found the perfect foil in Mathews. India were extremely disciplined with the ball, Ashwin in great rhythm and Kuldeep Yadav getting the ball to turn this way and that with his left-arm wrist spin that brooked careful watching. Mindful of the extreme criticism that Sri Lanka’s penchant for fancy strokes have attracted, Sri Lanka’s two best batsmen cut out the sweep for as long as possible, only playing it when right on top of the ball and therefore in a position to hit it down into the ground. Their defensive techniques were watertight, their resolve all too obvious. The two were putting on an in-the-trenches exhibition that, hopefully, the rest in the dressing-room were watching eagle-eyed.
Ball by ball, over by over, they plodded on until lunch, but after the interval, there was a fidgetiness that suggested that disaster was imminent. Chandimal was the first to go, inside-edging a Kuldeep pull on to his thigh and to short-leg, and Mathews followed him back 21 deliveries later, adjudged leg-before – sweeping – to Ashwin. The review provided no joy; as the two reds for pitching and impact were followed by an amber – umpire’s call – for hitting, Mathews threw his head back in disappointment, and India sensed that the finish line was just a few lazy sprints away.
As has been his won’t, Niroshan Dickwella played his strokes without fear or favour, often backing away to make room, taking balls off the stumps, living dangerously. Maybe that’s what he believes is the best approach for him, but it has cost his team dear several times this series alone. It was fun while it lasted but it was too risky to last any substantial length.
This series was to have witnessed 15 days of Test cricket; we had less than 11. Sri Lanka were bludgeoned into submission, keeling over at the first hint of pressure. India aren’t complaining. Box ticked, mission accomplished.