NAGPUR: During the only passage of play on Monday when Sri Lanka put up a semblance of resistance after lunch, Umesh Yadav was strolling towards the top of his run-up. From mid-on, Ishant Sharma walked up. They paused for a while, a few words were exchanged.
The ninth-wicket partnership was broken on the fifth ball of the over. The second Test was over soon after.
There is nothing unusual in teammates talking to each other, sharing ideas and planning together. It happens all the time.
But Ishant talking to Umesh and trying to lift him at a time when the latter’s shoulders were drooping on an unresponsive pitch appeared significant because fast bowling is what India will bank on in about a month from now. Camaraderie is important. It is one of the things they need in South Africa.
Mentioning fast bowlers in a mismatch highlighted by India’s batting, Sri Lanka’s appalling lack of Test match temperament and Ravichandran Ashwin becoming the quickest to 300 wickets may appear misplaced.
They formed an important cog still, by maintaining pressure and getting breakthroughs. Umesh was not as probing, but Ishant was relentless, often causing awkward bounce from a good length.
Made to work for his five wickets in the match, he also got deviation off the pitch. From a series billed as the build-up to what lies ahead, Ishant’s performance was a takeaway for the team before going to a country where they are yet to win a Test series.
“The last few times we played abroad, in different places, the fast bowlers were a little inexperienced. But since the 13 home Tests we played last season, they have evolved into a good unit,” said Rohit Sharma.
“Putting in match-winning performances on slow pitches isn’t easy. They know their game better now, having worked on the aspect of planning batsmen out and technical things. They know the areas to bowl and how to bowl according to the field set for them. Their contribution in the team’s success has been huge.”
Spin continues to be India’s principal weapon at home. In 15 Tests in India since last year’s New Zealand series, spinners have taken 186 wickets, compared to 91 by the fast men. Not seen in these figures is the discomfort caused by the quicks with the new and old ball.
Their reverse swing has often been more effective than visiting bowlers. Then England captain Alastair Cook had acknowledged that last year and on Monday, Sri Lanka’s coach Nick Pothas felt this unit adds another dimension to India’s game.
“Not just pace, they possess a huge amount of skill as well. Their job involves executing plans and they are good at that. You can see they have worked hard on what they are doing. After some world-class spinners, if this is the quality of their fast bowlers, it shows how strong India’s bench is. This makes a good team,” said the South African.
An important question mark remains over this crop. Most of them are prone to injuries and go missing after playing a few matches. However, with talks of rest and rotation doing the rounds following Virat Kohli’s criticism of scheduling, it can be expected that due care will be taken.
If that happens, this team can think of matching others in their own game in their backyard. Ishant’s return augurs well for a lot which is capable of causing excitement.
Sri Lanka (1st innings): 205 all out.
India (1st Innings): 610/6 decl.
Sri Lanka 2nd innings: (overnight 21/1):
Karunaratne c Vijay b R Jadeja 18
Thirimanne c Jadeja b Yadav 23
Mathews c Rohit b Jadeja 10
Chandimal c Ashwin b Yadav 61
Dickwella c Kohli b Ishant 4
Shanaka c Rahul b Ashwin 17
Perera lbw Ashwin 0
Herath c Rahane b Ashwin 0
Lakmal n.o 31
Gamage b Ashwin 0.
Extras: (LB-2) 2
Total (49.3 overs) 166
Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-34, 3-48, 4-68, 5-75, 6-102, 7-107, 8-107, 9-165.
Bowling: Ishant 12-4-43-2, Ashwin 17.3-4-63-4, Jadeja 11-5-28-2, Yadav 9-2-30-2.