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India vs Sri Lanka: End is also a beginning

Virat Kohli notches up first Test win as captain; India spoil Kumar Sangakkara’s farewell party by 278 runs to level the series.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Colombo |
Updated: August 25, 2015 1:26:16 am
India vs Sri Lanka, Ind vs SL, India Sri Lanka, Ind SL, R Ashwin, Ashwin India, India Ashwin, Kumar Sangakkara, Kumar Sangakkara Sri Lanka, Sangakkara Retires, Cricket News, Cricket Indian captain Virat Kohli claps after his team’s massive win over Sri Lanka in the second Test at the P Sara Oval. (Source: AP)

YES, KL Rahul had kept wickets before. In school, as a junior cricketer for India and even for two of his IPL franchises. But this was Test cricket. This was the fifth morning of a potentially epoch-breaking encounter, not just for Virat Kohli & Co but for Indian cricket. Only last week the young team had lost their nerve and collapsed in a heap after having held sway for three whole days—almost like rabbits in front of headlights that weren’t even originally headed in their direction.

So when Angelo Mathews edged an out-swinger from Umesh Yadav first up on Monday morning, Rahul simply had to catch the ball. It wasn’t too straightforward. It was dying on him as it got there, and was headed in that dreaded gap between the wicket-keeper and the first slip. It was a catch that would have tested even a regular wicket-keeper, one that does this on a daily basis.

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Rahul had to dive. Rahul had to stretch. Rahul had to hang on, come what may.

Ever since he took over as Test captain —to start off with as a stand-in at Adelaide and then as the permanent replacement at Sydney — Kohli has harped endlessly and rather vainly on his young team not seizing the initiative and on their inability to take the final step towards glory.

Watch India vs Sri Lanka 2nd Test review (App users click here)

This was the opening. This was the moment. This was the opportunity for India to emerge from the shadows. And as Rahul rose up with the ball lodged in his right glove, India had all but turned the corner.

It was obvious that Sri Lanka’s hopes and the duration of the fifth day’s play would depend almost entirely on how long Mathews hung around. He was the final peg. The only obstacle between India finally tasting victory with Kohli holding the reins. Unfortunately it was probably what Sri Lanka were thinking as well. For, once Mathews left, the rest seemed keener on rushing up the process and leave Kumar Sangakkara more time to enjoy his final day as an international cricketer. And R Ashwin was perfectly poised to hasten the end as he ripped through the middle-order to lead India to a 278-run win, their first under Kohli and hopefully for them the first of the new era, and level the series with one more — Sangakkara-less — Test to go.

Weather or not

If Mathews was a controllable obstacle, there was another one that they could do little about lurking in the horizon, and at times ominously so over the P Sara Oval.

Watch as Kumar Sangakkara bids goodbye to cricket (App users click here)

There had been heavy rain the previous night. The sun had broken on Monday morning with dark clouds for company. There was rain in the air. But somehow even the Sri Lankan batsmen didn’t seem too keen on hanging around and getting wet in it. And they kept exiting the scene quicker than the passing clouds.

The dark clouds weren’t really playing hide-and-seek. It was more like they were beat cops surveying the area, not sure whether to raid or not. Around the time, Dinesh Chandimal played a predetermined sweep to Mishra and was bowled around his legs — if anything the untoward shot only ruined the aesthetics of an otherwise dream delivery — a chunky dark cloud hovered over the P Sara Oval. But it passed, and very soon so did Lanka’s hopes of hanging on.

By now Ashwin was spinning webs around the Sri Lankans. Dimuth Karunaratne, whose record in second innings outdoes his first by quite a margin, had waged a lone war after Mathews’ dismissal. He had been the only to use his feet against Ashwin, and put the Indian off-spinner under some pressure. But all it took to mess with his confidence was an off-break that pitched on leg and ripped past his outside-edge. Karunaratne never left his crease again. He didn’t last too long either. Ashwin had him in his grasp. He had him in his spell. Then came a slightly flatter delivery that pitched right outside the off-stump, skidded on and hit the left-handed opener’s stumps. Lahiru Thirimanne had already come and gone, struggling to read Ashwin’s guile. Then he jumped out of his crease, tried to flick an off-break against the turn and offered Cheteshwar Pujara, who will open for India come the third Test, an easy grab.

Dhammika Prasad had joked about wanting to win the Test with his bat for Sri Lanka after stumps on Day Four when asked about his preparation for saving the Test. And he looked like he was actually living up to his word as he charged at Ashwin and tried hitting him over the sight-screen, but only managing to give Mishra a simple catch.

Quietly effective

Ishant Sharma has quietly had a terrific series so far, even if wickets haven’t really come his way. But then Jehan Mubarak was ready to oblige, as he edged a length delivery to Kohli at slip off the first delivery he faced. It was a crucial spell from Ishant. He was brought on as soon as a cloud-cover took over the Oval. And he ensured that the batsmen were kept under check, and the spinners were bowling at exactly who they had in their sights. And soon Mishra had his second wicket of the innings. India were now a wicket away from victory. Obviously they had avoided the rain. But just then the skies finally opened up, and suddenly Kohli must have felt like even the heavens were conspiring against his captaincy reign.

But like has been the case in this series, the rains didn’t last long enough to affect the cricket. And Sri Lanka lasted hardly more than a couple of minutes upon their return.

Sri Lanka were bowled out for 134 in Sangakkara’s 134th and final Test. Interestingly, they had scored 134 in each of his final ODI and T20 match.

Even if the rest of the day was dedicated to Sangakkara, for India it will be the day when Rahul took that catch and Kohli’s India finally got a taste of that winning feeling.

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