A new-look Indian team, comprising of a large number of young players making their international debuts, took on a new-look Sri Lankan team in a landmark series that could signpost the beginning of a new practice in international cricket. That of playing simultaneous series in separate countries, in different formats of the game. (More Cricket News)
With the Indian red-ball side already playing Test matches in England, the Indian white ball squad, in a pioneering move, played and won an ODI series in Sri Lanka. That both are full strength, representative national sides were emphatically proved by the young players in Sri Lanka, as many as seven of whom made their debuts in Colombo, as they romped home to a series victory with plenty to spare.
In the first ODI, India strolled to a comfortable victory that was easy to the point of being one-sided, as young gun Prithvi Shaw and debutants Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav tore into a below-par Sri Lankan attack on a good pitch, firing on all cylinders from the word go. A battle-hardened skipper Shikhar Dhawan, in his 143rd ODI, himself a debutant in that captain’s role, watched the fireworks benevolently from the other end, quietly helping himself to an unbeaten 86 in the process, as he guided his young team to victory.
And somewhere along the way, they made an emphatic statement that this was an Indian team as good as any, to prove a point to the rest of the cricketing world. This was achieved in style, as the young team completely outplayed the Sri Lankans, who in this game, looked unsure that they really belonged at this level.
Almost all Lankan batsmen got starts, after a decent opening partnership in quick time, but failed to go on to anything substantial. And in spite of a late flourish with the last two overs producing 36 runs, that remained the story of the failed Sri Lankan effort in all three departments in this game. They just didn’t look good enough to challenge the Indian team seriously at any point, throughout the match.
This was in stark contrast to the rampaging Sri Lankan teams of the 90s and the early 2000s when Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan were playing together, with Lasith Malinga, Chaminda Vaas and Muralitharan complementing their batting heroics with the ball.
For the record, Prithvi Shaw played some sublime shots on the off side throughout this series that were a joy to watch, before throwing his wicket away in momentary lapses of concentration in each of the matches, failing to reach 50 even a single time. He will surely be disappointed with that.
Birthday-boy Ishan Kishan fearlessly hit his first ball in ODI cricket for a six to match his India U-19 teammate and rival Rishabh Pant, who had done exactly that against England in Test cricket. Kishan got a sparkling ODI half century on debut, to add to his 50 on T20 international debut against England earlier and is surely one of India’s most exciting prospects for the future, with his brand of power hitting ‘in the V’ in front of the wicket.
And it does seem that dominant, flying starts are going to be a regular feature, as the so- called Indian “second string” spectacularly launches and revives multiple careers on this short tour. Creating an embarrassment of riches for the Indian selectors to pick their future sides from, as the young guns fire again and again and again.
The thing that defines these young cricketers is their refusal to give up, even when all seems lost. We saw that time and again in Australia and it was on show yet again in the second ODI against Sri Lanka when India looked dead and buried at 193 for 7, with 89 runs to get in the last 14.5 overs. A lot of us switched off the telecast at that stage believing the match to be over.
But like the unheralded Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur in Australia, who came together at a similar score of 186 for 6 in the fourth Test at the Gabba and added 123 golden runs that laid the foundation of a famous win for India, it was pacer Deepak Chahar’s turn to grab the limelight this time. Hitherto unknown as a batsman, with a top score of 12 and an aggregate of 18 runs in four ODIs played over three years, he combined with fellow pacer Bhubaneshwar Kumar in an, unbeaten 84 run eighth-wicket partnership that carried India home.
This new generation of India’s young cricketers with their supreme self belief, have proven time and again that they know no fear. Not for them the limiting restrictions of such minor details as a previous top score of 12, as they set about winning games for their country in miraculous turnarounds. And this will surely not be the last of them.
Earlier, another Indian youngster playing only his second ODI, scored an outstandingly dominant 50, having come in to bat at a time when India had lost early wickets. In the normal course, he would have been expected to dig in and consolidate and make sure his side did not lose any further wickets.
PLAYING BIG KNOCKS
Instead, Suryakumar Yadav attacked and dominated the Sri Lankan bowling from the first ball onwards. He had a shot for every ball and yet looked in no hurry at all, as he effortlessly unleashed the vast array of cricketing shots in his repertoire on a hapless attack. Yet, even he, like Prithvi Shaw at the top of the order, could not go on to a big score and for all his dominance, had only one 50 to show at the end of the ODI series.
To be fair to them, the Sri Lankans had vastly stepped up their own performance with both bat and ball in the second ODI and looked like running away with the match for most of the day. Unfortunately for them, this Indian team, just as the one in Australia before them, refuses to give up and will not roll over and die at any stage.
The inconsequential third ODI which saw as many as five players making their debuts and pacer Navdeep Saini making a comeback, in a wholesale revamp of the team of the first two ODIs, proved to be an anti-climax for the Indians. After the now customary rollicking start, the Indian batting fell away as Shaw, debutant Sanju Samson and Suryakumar Yadav again threw away dominant starts, when looking set for many more. And the Indian innings stumbled to a below par 225 which was never going to be enough, given the relative inexperience of the bowling attack playing in this match.
Sure enough, the Sri Lankan batsmen, growing in confidence with each passing game, made short work of the target as they cantered to a win and although a triple strike by Rahul Chahar pegged them back a bit, it came too late in the day to make a difference to the final outcome. But then, with the entire first choice bowling attack sitting in the dugout, perhaps, not too much needs to be read into this defeat. And the dropped catches only added to their woes.
The Indian batsmen failing to convert their sparkling starts throughout the series, remained a major disappointment and these young cricketers would be quick to realise that and work on it in the future. They owe it to themselves and to coach Rahul Dravid who has groomed and mentored them from their U-19 days.
(The writer is a retired Indian Air Force Wing Commander and a former Ranji Trophy player. Views personal)