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Unsatisfying End to Virat Kohli and Boys' Home Season

Dileep Premachandran |Cricketnext | Updated: December 6, 2017, 7:25 PM IST
Unsatisfying End to Virat Kohli and Boys' Home Season

India's captain Virat Kohli reacts after a dropped catch by teammate Ajinkya Rahane during the third Test match against Sri Lanka. (AP)

For India, this was a deeply unsatisfying way to end a sequence of 16 Tests on home soil, spread across two seasons. They won as many as 11, but were stymied in Delhi – as they had been in Rajkot (England) and Ranchi (Australia) – by a combination of defiant opposition, a comatose pitch and their own lapses.

For Sri Lanka, whose players were unused to Delhi’s filthy air, this would have felt like a win, and a massive step in the evolution of an inexperienced side. India may consign this Test to a dark and dusty corner of the archives, but Dhananjaya de Silva and Roshen Silva will never forget the roles they played in pulling off a draw that seemed so unlikely when Angelo Mathews edged Ravindra Jadeja to slip in the sixth over of the morning.

When Ashwin befuddled Dinesh Chandimal to reduce Sri Lanka to 147 for 5, after Jadeja overstepping had granted him a reprieve earlier, more than half the day’s overs remained to be bowled. But in de Silva, who showed tremendous courage and character to bat on despite a muscular injury, they found a not unlikely saviour.

In just his third match, at the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground in Colombo, he had come to the crease with Sri Lanka 26 for 5 against Australia. He grafted for 129, adding 211 with Chandimal, as Sri Lanka went on to post a competitive 355. Then, after Australia had eked out a small lead, he came back and smashed an unbeaten 65 from 74 balls to take the match away from Steve Smith’s men.

Those efforts, though, were as a lower-order batsman. Here, he had to dig in from No.3. By the time he finally limped off with 119 to his name, Sri Lanka were heading towards safety. Silva, the debutant, and Niroshan Dickwella, who favours the cavalier approach no matter what the match situation, then frustrated India to such an extent that Virat Kohli and team opted to shake hands half an hour early.

Winning Tests is never easy. On surfaces like this, which hardly deteriorates over five days, it becomes even harder. India didn’t help themselves, with some awful slip catching in the first innings and a couple of mistakes at the second time of asking. Jadeja was his miserly self, and R Ashwin unfurled almost every variation at his disposal, but on a pitch with no demons, the resolute Sri Lankans had an answer to almost everything.

The last time India played in Delhi, against South Africa in 2015, it took them 143.1 overs in the second innings to win the game, as AB de Villiers went from Mr. 360 to Stroke-less Wonder while crawling to 43 off 297 balls. At Eden Gardens in 2010, Hashim Amla had resisted India 499 minutes for his second century of the match. It took MS Dhoni’s side 131.3 overs to wrap up the win in what was the game’s penultimate over.

But the great escape that this most resembles was scripted by Pakistan at Mohali in March 2005. At stumps on day four, they were effectively 53 for 6, with all the big guns back in the pavilion. The next day, Kamran Akmal and Abdul Razzaq frustrated India for the better part of two sessions to grab a draw. And it was no popgun attack they thwarted either. Anil Kumble was peerless on Indian pitches, and the pace trio of Zaheer Khan, L Balaji and Irfan Pathan were all capable of moving the ball off the straight.

What this result does is serve as a reminder of how India have absolutely no margin for error when they journey to South Africa next month. There will be sessions, or even days, when the bowlers have to toil as hard as they did in Delhi. And if the catching is as slipshod as it was here, a quarter century of woe in the southern cape will continue.
First Published: December 6, 2017, 5:52 PM IST

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