GAME PLAN: The green that makes India see red

Jaideep Ghosh

Pune: Sri Lankan bowler Kasun Rajitha celebrates the wicket of Indian batsman Ajinkya Rahane during the first T20 match in Pune on Tuesday, Feb 9, 2016. Photo-PTI

Pune: Sri Lankan bowler Kasun Rajitha celebrates the wicket of Indian batsman Ajinkya Rahane during the first T20 match in Pune on Tuesday, Feb 9, 2016.
Photo-PTI

India’s encounters with the many hues of cricket have one thing in common – the moment the team comes across green, it sees red.

Wasn’t so long ago when the Boys in Blue beat the Green and Gold of Australia black and blue in the T20 series there, and everyone was cock-a-hoop about how great the contingent was and how well they’d do in the T20 World Cup.

Just to keep the cash counters rolling in a couple of weeks left before the event, the BCCI and the host broadcasters decided to call Sri Lanka over for a little joust, to check out India’s champagne side against a pretty weak team that the islanders now are.

Or were.

Look at where Sri Lanka are. The names that made them a world-class side – Kumara Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Lasith Malinga – are gone, leaving them with precious little.

Even the likes of Angelo Mathews and a couple of others are missing.

So it was basically like calling on the friendly neighbourly district high school side to play the big city champion side to give the champs a little ‘feel’ of things before they went ahead to win the tournament to come.

So in they came, this bunch of hopefuls, up against the Big Bad Blues who had just trashed the mighty Aussies! Surely a no-contest.

So when Mahendra Singh Dhoni led a virtually full-strength side (barring Virat Kohli) in to face a rag-tag combo captained by young Dinesh Chandimal, it was going to be another cakewalk.

Sure, there was a tinge of green on the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium pitch at Pune, but what chance did these virtual schoolboys had against the best batter in the business.

Then they met Rajitha, Shanaka and Chameera. By the time the Indian batsmen discovered their first names, the innings was over.

Kasun Rajitha, Dushmantha Chameera and Dasun Shanaka took eight Indian wickets between them, giving away 59 runs.

Chameera is the veteran of the lot, with a massive figure of four T20 internationals to his credit, while Shanaka was playing his second. Young Rajitha, all of 22, was making his debut against the fearsome Rohit Sharma.

At the end of that first over, he had Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. Later, Shikhar Dhawan gifted him the third.

It was absolute mayhem. India five for two at the end of the first over and 72/8 when the 14th over began.

PUNE: Indian bowler Ashish Nehra celebrates the wicket of Sri Lankan batsman N. Dickwella during the first T20 match played in Pune on Tuesday, Feb 9, 2016. Photo-PTI

PUNE: Indian bowler Ashish Nehra celebrates the wicket of Sri Lankan batsman N. Dickwella during the first T20 match played in Pune on Tuesday, Feb 9, 2016.
Photo-PTI

One wonders what the situation would have been, had the Sri Lankans held all their catches and if Ravichandran Ashwin and Ashish Nehra gone the way of their more illustrious predecessors.

Anyway, the rest you all know.

The issue here isn’t that India were suddenly faced with Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding, with Andy Roberts to follow. They were up against a trio of young fasts, full of beans and eager to impress.

The point was that the pitch had a little bit of lateral movement and quite a bit of bounce. That was all.

This is a saga that never ends – India and pitches.

We get flat tracks, we will kill anyone. Even though India didn’t exactly face the best fast bowlers in Australia during the T20s, they still were way too good, simple because the Aussies too were dabbling with the flat tracks they envisage they’d get during the World Cup in India.

So all was good. Huge scores were defended or chased down.

Then we came to Pune. Now, Pune is one of the newer centres, so they are out to impress. Additionally, they need the pitches and the square to hold for the duration of the events to come, so they needed to tie the soil down with grass.

So there was grass, and a hard square. That was the end of India’s honeymoon, even against an inexperienced attack.

What will happen now is that there will be panic in the ranks and there will be desperate moves made to slow down the tracks (if they aren’t slow already) at Ranchi and Vizag, the venues for the next two matches.

The dodgy thing about a three-match series is that by the time you find your feet, it’s over.

But it could also be considered an aberration. No association worth its salt will now offer anything close to what Pune offered. So it may still be quite possible for India to hammer these youngsters on flat pitches and recover to win the last series before the big event.

Pune: Sri Lankan bowler Dushmantha Chameera celebrates the wicket of Indian batsman Yuvraj Singh during the first T20 match in Pune on Tuesday, Feb 9, 2016. Photo-PTI

Pune: Sri Lankan bowler Dushmantha Chameera celebrates the wicket of Indian batsman Yuvraj Singh during the first T20 match in Pune on Tuesday, Feb 9, 2016.
Photo-PTI

But the way in which the Indian batsmen folded up wouldn’t have been missed by the big boys in the business. For future reference.

And let’s face it. While we all root for the boys to win, it doesn’t hurt to see them jump once in a while, does it? It gives us some ammunition to fire in what is becoming a boring, repetitive game.