Applying pressure at the right times

The Galle Test will always be remembered for individual performances and the fact that India scripted a famous comeback – people will fondly remember this Test match for either Virender Sehwag’s 201, Gautam Gambhir’s twin half centuries, or Ajantha Mendis’ and Harbhajan Singh’s ten-wicket hauls.

What will be forgotten though is the way the two skippers – Anil Kumble and Mahela Jayawardene – marshaled their resources and plotted ways and means to get the better of their opponents. In a Test match where the batsmen had it easy (relatively) for most part of the Test match, it was the tactics employed by the skippers that resulted in crucial twists to the match.

After allowing India to get to 329, Sri Lanka came back firing all cylinders firing and notched up 116 runs in their first 23 overs. This is when Anil Kumble played the ‘pressure’ card for the first time in the match; he, with Harbhajan Singh bowling from the other end, worked in tandem and kept a check on the flow of runs.

The next eleven overs – which included three maidens – only saw 17 runs being added to the total. This is when Malinda Warnapura tried to break the shackles and ended up losing his wicket. India had made inroads into the Sri Lankan batting line up, and they landed a second blow soon when Kumar Sangakkara fell two overs later.

Score at the end of Over 23.0: 116/1
Score at the end of Over 34.0: 133/1
Runs scored in the period: 17 (RR: 1.54)
Result: Wickets of Warnapura and Sangakkara in quick succession

A similar tactic was employed by the Sri Lankan captain too – this time to counter Sachin Tendulkar, who came out all guns blazing in the Indian second innings. Tendulkar raced away to 29 – off only 26 balls – and had added 53 runs in ten overs in the company of Rahul Dravid, who was just then rediscovering his form.

That’s when Jayawardene decided to plug the flow of runs – he operated with Muttiah Muralidaran and Chaminda Vaas, and the two veterans combined well to tighten the flow of runs. The experienced Indian duo could only add three runs off the next 22 balls – in this period, Tendulkar was kept quiet for thirteen deliveries and was eventually forced to play an attacking stroke.

He went after a wide one from Vaas – the ball took the outside edge of the bat and flew straight to Mahela Jayawardene at second slip.

Six balls later, Rahul Dravid too fell – this time trying to play a slog sweep – a shot he wouldn’t have played under normal circumstances. It’s a different matter that the dismissal was a controversial one, and ignoring the fact that Rahul Dravid wasn’t in the greatest of forms – but the ploy employed by the Sri Lankans worked to perfection.

Score at the end of Over 51: 197/2
Score at the end of Over 56: 200/3
Runs scored in the period: 3 (RR: 0.60)
Result: Wickets of Tendulkar and Dravid in quick succession

The pressure tactic came to the fore once again in the final innings of the match. Sri Lanka, after suffering at the hands of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma early in the innings, were recovering through a partnership between Michael Vandort and Thilan Samaraweera. The duo got together in the fourth over, with the score reading 10 for 3.

The duo began the post-lunch session at 24 for 3 after nine overs and could only 13 runs in the first nine overs of the session. Anil Kumble then brought himself on from one end and Harbhajan Singh from the other, and that move translated to immediate success as Harbhajan Singh dismissed Vandort in his very first over.

Score at the end of Over 9.0: 24/3
Score at the end of Over 20.0: 37/4
Runs scored in the period: 13 (RR: 1.18)
Result: Wicket of Michael Vandort

From being a game which was decided on the field – by performances with the bat and the ball, cricket these days has become a mind game – devising strategies in the board room, which team or captain reads the situation correctly, which captain employ’s the right strategy, etc. all these have a definite impact on the game.

And in Sri Lanka currently, we have two of the shrewdest captains and perhaps two of the best readers of the game currently – as can be made out by their decisions in the Galle Test.

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