Century men smash cricket back on track
By PHIL MACDONALD
WHILE India's defeat of Sri Lanka in the just-completed three-test series was not nearly as emphatic as its 3-0 drubbing of England earlier in the year, it did prove that the country is back on track as one of the world's top test cricketing nations.
India sealed the series 1-0 in Sri Lanka when the third and final test petered out to a draw last week.
It was the win in the second test that brought about the series victory and, surprisingly, the country's first win on foreign soil in seven years.
Their last away series win was in 1986, when they defeated England 2-0.
After the first test in Kandy was washed out, the second test gave the Indians a chance to display their talents against what was considered by most a weaker opposition.
India took the initiative from the first day, hammering 300 runs for the loss of only four wickets. Young run-machine Vinod Kambli scored a century in his first test innings on foreign soil.
It was his third century in consecutive tests. He slammed 119 and was ably backed by opener Navjot Sidhu, who scored 82.
Although losing their last six wickets for only 66 runs, India ended the second day with a firm grip on the game. Sri Lanka was 200 runs for four wickets at close of play.
The second part of Sri Lanka's first innings was almost a replica of India's.
They lost their last six wickets for only 54 runs, giving the visitors a 112-run lead on the first innings. Kumble was the pick of the Indian bowlers, taking five wickets for 87 runs including a mesmerising spell of three wickets in nine balls.
The Indians then proceeded to press home their advantage. Openers Manoj Prabhakar and Sidhu pounded the Sri Lankan attack for a stand of 171. At stumps on the third day India were 205 for two - a lead of 317 with eight wickets in hand.
On the fourth day India tightened the screws. Sihdu reached his century following his 82 in the first innings, while number four Sachin Tendulkar made 104.
India declared at 359 for four, leaving Sri Lanka with the awesome task of scoring 471 runs for victory, a feat they never looked like achieving.
At the end of the fourth day, the Sri Lankans were 86 for two and desperately fighting for a draw.
Although the Sri Lankans fought hard for that draw, India won the match with just over an hour to spare.
Pramodaya Wickramasinghe was the last man to go, trapped lbw by Kumble for four. The visitors had bowled out Sri Lanka for 236 and had finally secured an away win after seven years.
Although India went into the series as favourite, that was not the case six months beforehand, when they hosted England.
The home side had gone two years without a test win and were not expected to improve on that performance against what looked like a formable opposition.
But it took no longer than the first day of the first test in Calcutta to prove India were more than a match for England.
More than 250,000 people jammed into Eden Gardens stadium over the five days of the test to watch India dominate the game. Early on the fifth day the stadium rejoiced to the sound and glow of firecrackers as India celebrated.
The eigth-wicket victory was a preview of what was to come in the three-test series.
Batting first in the second test in Madras, the Indians hammered 560 for six declared. After that, England were never in the race, capitulating against Indian spin in both innings.
The home side won by an innings and 22 runs, its biggest win over England in 80 tests spanning 61 years.
Although England started the third test in Bombay looking a vastly improved side, it was only a matter of time before India reaffirmed its dominance. Chasing England's healthy 347, the home side amassed 591. Batting sensation Kambli hit 224.
England's second innings was a disaster - all out for 229, giving India an innings-and-15-run victory.
The crushing series was India's first 3-0 victory in 61 years in the test arena.
The two series victories signal a new era in Indian cricket.
After years in the doldrums, the country has assembled a very talented and disciplined side that can match the world's best.