At a time when Test cricket is in dire need of oxygen if it is not to lose further ground to the Twenty20 version, the barren strip for the second of the India-Sri Lanka games couldn’t have come as a worse advertisement for the longer format.
That the ball didn’t begin to misbehave until the final session of the match is alone indicative of the heart-break that bowlers from both sides had to endure in a match that saw a plethora of batting records and many unwelcome bowling records being stacked up.
Test runs, no matter on what tracks and in what conditions they are accrued, are worth their weight in gold. Even so, the batsmen who flourished in this drab draw will look back on their performances with more than token sheepishness in time to come.
For the record, India extended their overnight 669 for nine to 707, their highest total in an away Test, for a first-innings lead of 65. Sri Lanka had limped along to 129 for three in 45 overs in the face of steady bowling on a suddenly responsive track from the Indian spinners when Kumar Sangakkara hastened the end nine minutes prior to the earliest possible abandonment by declaring the innings closed, ending all-round misery for all concerned.
If Test cricket is meant to be an equal contest between bat and ball, then the SSC strip was the perfect example of what surface not to provide. Neither skills nor determination found any reward from a bowling perspective; as for batsmen, the only way of getting out was making mistakes through lapses in concentration, which is exactly what Test cricket should not necessitate.
Perhaps, just perhaps, had the match been allowed to run its course, a result might have eventuated on day seven. Already, crowds have been weaned away from the traditional version in most parts of the world.
No one can blame those that steadfastly stayed away from Friday’s proceedings at the SSC grounds, because all they would have witnessed was a stonewalling effort from Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha for the first 100 minutes, and then unrewarding Sri Lankan batting for the next three hours when everyone had an eye on the clock, what with not even the weather queering the pitch.
Anuruddha Polonowitts was both the hero and the villain of the piece, depending on whether it was the batsman or the bowler that was labelling the adjective. The SSC curator had promised a fair, sporting pitch on match-eve; few believed him then, after a close look at the firm, hard surface. Fewer still will believe him in future, because this was a track too well prepared and therefore took out all natural wear and tear out of the equation.
Any outside possibility of a dramatic, unexpected twist on the final day was dashed by the length and the obduracy with which Ishant and Ojha batted in the morning. For all their occupation of the crease, there was very little to show in terms of runs on the board. Man of the match Sangakkara tried everything at his disposal, including letting loose Dammika Prasad’s express short-pitched bowling at number eleven Ojha, but the two tailenders stuck it out, adding 38 runs in 27.2 overs on Friday when Ishant was finally dismissed by Dilhara Fernando.
India chose to attack Tillakaratne Dilshan with a round-the-stumps, into the body short-pitched line that eventually paid dividends when Abhimanyu Mithun trapped him on the pull for the second time in three innings, but Ishant disappointed for a third straight time with the first new-ball. Harbhajan Singh, Ojha and Virender Sehwag showed good discipline as turn and bounce gradually made their presence felt post-tea, the two specialist spinners’ control and the ability to exploit helpful conditions just about the only point of encouragement on a final day that otherwise threw up no positives for either outfit.
SRI LANKA (I Innings): 642/4 decl in 159.4 overs
INDIA (I Innings, O/n: 669/9):
Vijay lbw Mendis 58
(194m, 124b, 8x4)
Sehwag st P J’ardene b Randiv 99
(186m, 101b, 15x4)
Dravid lbw Randiv 3
Tendulkar c P J’ardene b Dilshan 203
(516m, 347b, 23x4, 1x6)
Laxman lbw Mendis 29
(116m, 98b, 2x4)
Raina c Sangakkara b Mendis 120
(294m, 228b, 12x4, 2x6)
Dhoni c&b Dilshan 76
(164m, 138b, 7x4)
Harbhajan c S’kkara b Dilshan 0
Mithun b Mendis 41
(109m, 97b, 4x4)
Ishant c S’kkara b Fernando 27
(140m, 117b, 1x4)
Ojha (not out) 18
(105m, 92b, 1x4)
Extras (B-9, LB-7, W-4, NB-13) 33
Total (all out, 225.2 overs) 707
Fall of wickets: 1-165 (Sehwag), 2-169 (Vijay), 3-173 (Dravid), 4-241 (Laxman), 5-497 (Raina), 6-592 (Tendulkar), 7-592 (Harbhajan), 8-643 (Dhoni), 9-668 (Mithun).
Bowling: Prasad 22-2-101-0 (nb-5), Fernando 31.2-1-116-1 (w-3, nb-5), Mathews 9-1-24-0 (w-1), Randiv 73-16-222-2, Mendis 63-10-172-4 (nb-3), Dilshan 27-6-56-3.
SRI LANKA (II Innings):
P’vitana c Laxman b H’bhajan 34
(81m, 62b, 5x4)
Dilshan c Ishant b Mithun 14
(51m, 21b, 2x4)
Sangakkara (not out) 42
(135m, 114b, 5x4)
M Jayawardene lbw Sehwag 5
Samaraweera (not out) 10
(55m, 46b, 1x4)
Extras (B-8, LB-8, NB-8) 24
Total (for 3 wkts decl, 45 overs) 129
Fall of wickets: 1-50 (Dilshan), 2-73 (Paranavitana), 3-97 (M Jayawardene).
Bowling: Mithun 6-1-17-1, Ishant 4-0-31-0 (nb-6), Sehwag 9-1-17-1 (nb-1), Harbhajan 13-0-35-1, Ojha 13-6-13-0 (nb-1).