India’s victory over Sri Lanka was built on guts, patience and flexibility

The most impressive statistic of this series might well be that India used four different openers over three Tests and none of them managed a 50-run partnership.
Yet three of them made centuries and the other managed 82.
That fact embodies the collective approach of this Indian side under Virat Kohli, in which every time India needed a player to make runs or take wickets, somebody was willing to put his hand up and oblige.
Overall, five different batsmen made centuries over six innings, including Cheteshwar Pujara, who carried his bat in his first Test innings for eight months, even as all those around him were losing their wickets (with the notable exception of Amit Mishra). It was an old-fashioned innings that relied on patience, technique and a little luck. It was also the result of injury. Had Murali Vijay or Shikhar Dhawan been fit, Pujara would not have played.
Most teams would have taken a step back in the face of a situation where neither their first-choice openers, nor a replacement opener was available. Yet Pujara, batting in the top two for only the fifth time in his Test career, grafted his way to an unbeaten 145. It set up a first series win in Sri Lanka for 22 years.
Similarly, Ajinkya Rahane made a series-turning century in the second innings of the second Test, after being promoted unexpectedly (for those watching, at least) to No. 3 in the batting order.
When faced with unfamiliar situations, the players chose to rise to the challenge rather than question their fate.
“[We] looked at it as an opportunity rather than a difficulty,” Kohli said at press conference after the victory. “That’s why we are able to play the kind of cricket that we want to.”
The five bowler theory paid off, with India taking all 60 Sri Lanka wickets over six innings. And while there wasn’t the same chopping and changing with the bowlers, the load was similarly shared. R Ashwin led the wickets column with 21, but Amit Mishra has a better average and strike rate for the series. And it was Ishant Sharma who produced the star turn in the third Test when conditions favoured the seam bowlers, picking up crucial wickets in both innings, including that of Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews twice.
Kohli also showed flexibility in giving Ashwin the new ball in the first two Tests. At every step, he has bucked custom, suggesting he is willing to succeed unconventionally, rather than fail conventionally.
The bowlers also showed rare patience as a group in the second and third Tests, especially when faced with Mathews’ implacable aura and broad bat. They didn’t flag or grow restless and try too many things. They just kept plugging away with their plans, trusting that sooner or later, the game would break their way. Eventually, they breached Mathews’ defenses and marched to victory.
Even the much maligned Stuart Binny chipped in with big wickets in the second Test and a crucial cameo with the bat in third when another dismissal could well have opened the door for Sri Lanka to come barreling through.
“The kind of attitude and the kind of character the team has shown, I am really proud of the boys and everybody can be proud of the way we played in this series,” Kohli said
The team was even able to turn a combustible Ishant to its advantage. Normally mild-mannered, Ishant erupted on the fourth day while batting after an exchange of words with Sri Lanka fast bowler Dhammika Prasad. It could have led to him and the team losing focus and getting caught up in extra-curricular activities. Instead, a fired-up Ishant tore into Sri Lanka’s top order and even slapped his own head multiple times after getting Dinesh Chandimal caught behind late on the fourth evening.
“An angry fast bowler is a captain’s delight,” Kohli said. “I was very happy to see what happened yesterday. The timing was perfect. It had to be controlled but in the end it benefited us.”
Another example of seeing an opportunity and seizing it.
India could have withered away after that collapse in Galle. An inexperienced captain and an inexperienced team could easily have turned inward and found themselves caught up in what might have been, rather than what could still be. But Kohli is a relentlessly positive person and that character trait seems to be seeping into the team as a group.
“The way we lost in Galle was because we played bad cricket in two sessions,” Kohli said. “There were lots of positives to take from the match and we focused on that.”
Admittedly, Sri Lanka were not the toughest opponents, but they had the home advantage, the bowlers to exploit it and the weight of recent history on their side. India have weaknesses – they are by no means a complete team – but they made the most of their strengths and a win for Kohli in his first series as captain, and away from home too, is no small feat. The team also fixed some of the flaws from the first Test, particularly bowling as a pack and soaking up pressure.
The series win marks the end of a number of unwanted streaks. It is India’s first victory in Sri Lanka for 22 years. It is India’s first away series win since 2011. It is the first time India has won two Tests in a series since 2004 and only the fifth time that they have done so in their history. It is also the first time ever that India has come back to win an away series after losing the first Test.
It might also mark the beginning of something – a resilient and adaptable India team that finds a way to win. The home series against South Africa in October will test that assertion, but if I was a betting man, I’d put my money on Kohli and India.