Sri Lanka’s miserable run of form continued as they slumped to a 304-run defeat in the first Test match against India at Galle. It seemed that Sri Lanka’s fighting spirit was crushed by the end of day one, when India closed on a remarkable 399-3 after they elected to bat first. This was mainly due to a superb innings from opener Shikhar Dhawan, who blasted his way to 190 off just 168 balls, earning him the well-deserved title of man of the match. After India posted 600 in the first innings, they decided not to enforce the follow-on and proceeded to set Sri Lanka an improbable target of 550 to win. Sri Lanka did not manage to even bat out day four as they ended up being bowled out for 245, despite some stubborn resistance from opener Dimuth Karunaratne and keeper Niroshan Dickwella. Sri Lanka have several questions to answer following their underwhelming performance, while India can reflect on some quality individual performances but they still need to wrestle with their opening dilemma.
Has Mukund done enough to keep his opening spot?
Many fans were shocked when Abhinav Mukund received another call-up to India’s Test side, but an injury to Lokesh Rahul gave the Tamil Nadu batsman another opportunity to stake his claim for a permanent spot at the top of the order. Mukund bounced back after a meagre 12 in the first innings to hit a quick 81 in the second innings, which gave India the platform to declare early. This is his highest score in the seven Test matches he has played in and he made the most of the friendly batting conditions. However, reports coming in from the India camp suggest that Rahul has recovered and is fit to play in the Second Test.
There is no question that Shikhar Dhawan will be opening for India again, but it remains to be seen who will partner him. Strong cases can be made for both players, as Rahul’s Test form has been phenomenal recently, with him hitting six consecutive fifties against Australia in India’s home Test series earlier this year. If Rahul is fully fit, then the Indian selectors should pick him ahead of Mukund, despite the fact that he finally played a noteworthy knock. Mukund is averaging just over 20 in his career so far and has had ample time to prove himself, but he has never fully capitalised on his numerous chances. India are now expected to return to Dhawan and Rahul to open the innings.
India’s top order fires on all fronts
India won the game with the bat, as they scored their first innings total of 600 at an incredibly high run rate of 4.5. All of India’s top five made a score of above fifty in the Test, with Dhawan and Pujara both going on to make big hundreds. Moreover, Ravichandran Ashwin at six also contributed a handy 47 in the first innings and this dominant batting display has clearly shown that India’s’ batting unit is one of the best in the world. Sri Lanka’s spinners struggled to bowl at them, whereas their seamers were by far more effective – sharing nine wickets between them in the first innings. It will be a long series for Sri Lanka if they can’t find more discipline with the ball, as this Indian line-up will punish any mediocre bowling.
Contrasting fates for the two debutants
Both Sri Lanka and India handed out debuts to one player each. Sri Lanka called up Danushka Gunathilaka for the first time, while India picked limited overs star Hardik Pandya. While Gunathilaka struggled to really get going, Pandya seemed to slot seamlessly into India’s lower order, contributing well with bat and ball. Pandya played a typically aggressive innings of 50 off 49 balls, which included three sixes, but he eventually holed out to the deep. Due to the flat nature of the Sri Lankan pitch, Pandya was not given a chance to bowl much, but he still managed to pick up a wicket in the seven overs he was given throughout the match. On the other hand, Gunathilaka had a much more subdued debut, only managing scores of 16 and 2 during his stint at number three. After being hit around the ground in the first innings, Gunathilaka did well to bounce back and claim the wicket of Mukund in the second innings. Compared to Pandya however, Gunathilaka had a debut to forget.
Jadeja and Ashwin continue fine Test form
India’s two spinners, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, are currently ranked as the top two Test bowlers in the world. After the performance they put in this Test, it is easy to see how they earned that ranking. They shared ten wickets between them in the match, as they made the most of the deteriorating Galle pitch. By the end of day four, both spinners were getting the ball to turn huge amounts and were ruthlessly disciplined – with them both going at under three runs an over. This is merely symptomatic of their recent Test performances, as they have routinely dominated in India’s long home season. Jadeja has claimed an incredible 77 wickets since September, having played in just 12 matches. Ashwin has been even more impressive, taking 83 wickets in the same time period. If these two spinners continue their fine form, Sri Lanka’s batsmen will struggle in the remaining Test matches.
Karunaratne and Dickwella show there is hope for Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka faced a tough task to bat out the two remaining days for a draw, but opener Dimuth Karnunaratne showed immense spirit to hang around despite the chaos around him. His innings of 97 off 208 displayed the grit and determination of a true fighter as he refused to cave in to the relentless pressure piled on him by the Indian bowlers. He was supported by a bold counter attacking innings from keeper Niroshan Dickwella too. Dickwella opened at the Champions Trophy and looked to be a very aggressive player. So it was no surprise to see him take the attack to the Indian bowlers, hitting ten boundaries in his knock of 67. There is no denying that Sri Lanka’s batting performance was well below par, but these two batsmen have shown that there is hope for Sri Lanka going forward.