TOI Sports runs the rule over the performers for India during their 3-0 Test series win in Sri Lanka.
NEW DELHI: A report card on the players who featured in India's 3-0 series win in Sri Lanka, which is their first by this margin overseas and eighth consecutive unbeaten series under Virat Kohli.
Wasn't initially picked in the squad. Was due to be with his family in Melbourne. Finished as the series' top run-getter, with a career-best score in his first innings of the tour. Batted with few troubles, striking his runs at 104.67. Played the sweep superbly in Galle, where he used an early life to blast 190 off 168 balls. Should he have thrown his wicket away minutes before tea, charging and slapping a fast bowler to mid-off? No, and that's how Dhawan plays. Fell for 35 when attacking at the SSC, then rattled off 119 from 123 balls at Pallekele. Will face far sterner Tests in South Africa. For now has moved to first-choice opener alongside KL Rahul.
Continued his fine form in 2017 - he is the format's leading run-scorer this year - with a strong series which began with centuries in the first two Tests. In Galle, with Dhawan shoved Sri Lanka onto the back foot with a masterful 153. At the SSC, steered India out of a tricky period in alliance with Ajinkya Rahane in a big stand that, as it turned out, shoved the hosts out of the match. Failed in Pallekele, but was sharp in the field, pulling off an incredible one-handed catch at leg gully in Sri Lanka's first innings.
8/10 Hardik Pandya ( Three Tests, 178 runs at 59.33, one hundred, one fifty, four wickets )
Three innings, a debut fifty and a record-breaking century, partnership-snapping wickets, and hey presto, India's new allrounder was born. Pandya's selection was reward for his limited-overs form for India over the past 18 months, but that he had yet to score a century in any format was not lost on critics. However, 50 in his first Test innings and then a rollicking, ballsy century in the dead rubber - in which he belted the most runs off a Test over by an Indian - set tongues wagging and fuelled comparisons with Kapil Dev and Ben Stokes. It was a fine debut series for Pandya, as well as the easiest he could have expected, but how he fares in South Africa will truly start to define him. Mentally and technically, on the basis of three Tests, he looks like he's got what it takes.
The unsung star of the series. The fastest left-arm spinner to 150 wickets, Jadeja bowled India to a series victory at the SSC with a second-innings five-wicket haul, and seven for the Test coupled with an unbeaten 70 made him the Man of the Match. This, after he took six wickets in Galle. Missed the third Test because of a one-match suspension, and a day later was confirmed as the No 1 Test allrounder having already been the top-ranked bowler.
Looked well below his best. Topped the wickets table, though was far from as menacing as he was in Sri Lanka two years ago. Bowled the most overs (145.4) which is testament to how hard Ashwin had to work for his wickets, but had some mesmerising moments, especially with the new ball. The surfaces weren't as conducive as 2015, and yet Ashwin invariably made openings with his variations, backed by sharp catching. His batting, refreshingly, was once again rock solid. In Galle, he made a polished 47 before gloving a short ball down the leg side, followed by 51 in Colombo and 31 in Pallekele.
7/10 Ajinkya Rahane ( Three Tests, 229 runs at 76.33, one hundred, one fifty )
His 132 in Colombo was elegant and helped, in the company of Pujara, steer India towards a match-winning total. Having been cut off on 57 by a fine delivery in Galle, this century was huge for Rahane for it was his first since October. However, he fell to a needless shot when it seemed he could bat on for two more sessions. Failed in the dead rubber. His catching was special, as most often. Missed it? Hop on to YouTube and search for his stunning reflexes to get rid of Niroshan Dickwella in Pallekele.
That he lasted three Tests is reason enough to cheer. That he did so while bowling fast and accurately, makes it more special. Shami came in for praise from his captain, who termed him among the "top three fast bowlers" in International cricket. When he struck, he struck big: seven of his ten wickets were batsmen from numbers one to four. Twice, in Galle and Pallekele, he pegged Sri Lanka back with superb bursts that shredded their top order.
A brilliant series behind the stumps. An average one in front of it, with scores of 16, 67 and 16. That 67, however, came in as part of a lower-order fightback to get India to 622/9. But it was for his wicketkeeping that Saha stood out. During India's innings victory at the SSC, he did not concede a single bye in the home team's second innings, which spanned 116.5 overs. That is remarkable. Is the best wicketkeeper in the game? It's hard to look elsewhere.
Marked his return to the Indian batting order with a new milestone, that of becoming the first India opener to score six consecutive scores of 50. Then he made it seven, and therein lies the Rahul paradox. He gets runs, silken runs, but does not convert as often as he should. Playing his first Test since March, when he was sidelined with injury after the series against Australia, Rahul scored 57 before he was run out in a mix-up with Pujara during the second session of the second Test. In Pallekele, he got to 85 and drove a spinner straight to mid-on. Two innings, two fifties. Has to figure out how to score centuries.
Bowled just 57.1 overs across three Tests, in which he claimed six wickets. Struck blows to Sri Lanka's top order in Galle and Colombo which made a big impact on the outcome, and in Pallekele bounced back from an expensive showing in Sri Lanka's first innings with 2/21 in 13 overs during the second. Didn't have a whole lot to do once he was taken off after usually successful opening bursts, and didn't disappoint when given an extended spell in Pallekele.
As with his first series earlier this year, Kuldeep made an appearance in the final match after another player had been ruled out. And like on debut, he befuddled batsmen to the tune of four wickets which set India on course for victory. His success underlines the importance of a wrist spinner in the game, but as some experts have pointed out, how he copes when teams have analysed him closely will ultimately define Kuldeep.
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