Sri Lanka vs India: Ishant fight keeps Test cricket alive

When India last won a Test series in Sri Lanka, Virat Kohli was just four years old. And in Colombo 22 years later, you wondered whether his India side had finally grown up.

Their ages may tell you that they are already grown ups, and they are, but as a cricket team, and in Ishant Sharma’s case as a player, they sometimes remind us of a stroppy teenager, mixing new-found strength and brilliance with black moods and infuriating petulance.

This Indian team certainly never make it easy for their fans. They have an unshakable self-destructive streak, and this series in Sri Lanka was no different.

Before the tour started, India had won just one of their last fourteen Test matches. Even that win, at Lord’s, was their first Test match victory outside India in over three years.

The accusation of being ‘homers’, of only being able to master the five-day game in their own country, hung heavy over their heads.

Kohli, whose Test average is seven runs lower outside his home country, seemed to take it personally.

In the first Test, in idyllic Galle, they appeared to be ready to right some wrongs, as they led by 187 runs and had Sri Lanka two down in their second innings when play finished on day two.

However, that soft underbelly, that insecurity which seems to have haunted a post-Dravid India, reared its ugly head.

Dinesh Chandimal’s brilliant counter-attacking hundred showed up India’s bowlers, and Ranga Herath’s seven-for, all right-handers, showed up India’s batsmen.

But it wouldn’t be good old bipolar if they didn’t bite back with vengeance, and it was Cheteshwar Pujara’s gutsy unbeaten hundred in the third Test, carrying his bat while all around him fell, that epitomised India.

Kohli himself is an ebullient figure, walking off the field after the series victory clutching a stump, banging his chest with his fist, no hint of a smile, only an indignant glare. It was a look that said ‘we’ll do it how we want’. Sharma is a natural lieutenant.

Indeed, he is not one to be curbed, and he, like his team, oozes a self-confidence without which series victory would have been near impossible.

The ICC, however, have already taken a much dimmer view of things. Ishant Sharma, Dhammika Prasad, Dinesh Chandimal, and Lahiru Thirimanne were all called before the match referee, and Sharma and Chandimal will serve one-match bans. Their clash, albeit ugly, made for great viewing, and only added spice to an already fascinating battle.

It is typical of Kohli’s team to overstep the mark. That is not to say that they are unsportsmanlike or unprofessional: quite the opposite. They push the game to its limits, and play as hard as they can.

The match referee called the flaring of tempers between Sharma and the Sri Lankans ‘a poor advert’ for cricket, but in fact, it’s almost the opposite.

As T20 cricket becomes the foremost format of the game, there is a real danger that Test cricket will become obsolete, as it loses the intensity which makes it the best form of the game to watch.

However, players like Sharma and Pujara, and captains like Kohli, who refuse to back down and would rather confront a side head on with their cricket.

Occasionally, and in Colombo we saw it, they will overstep the mark. However, if the BCCI are to believe in Test matches, and if we are to retain the five-day game as part of our sport, we must allow sides to push right up to, and sometimes, a little over the line.