Sri Lanka losing to India isn’t new. The margin of defeats though is becoming embarrassing. Here’s the report card of Sri Lanka’s last five Tests in India before Mohali: Draw in Delhi (2017), innings and 239-run loss in Nagpur (2017), draw in Kolkata (2017), innings and 24-run loss in Mumbai ( 2009) and innings and 144-run loss in Kanpur (2009). Now, check India’s results in Sri Lanka in their last five Tests—all wins: innings and 171 runs in Pallekele (2017), innings and 53 runs in SSC, Colombo (2017), 304 runs in Galle (2017), 117 runs in SSC, Colombo (2015) and 278 runs in PSS, Colombo (2015). Outbatted, outbowled and outfielded, Sri Lanka have been a mismatch for India for the most part of last decade.
When the search results are narrowed down to the last five years against every team, Sri Lanka look even more ragged with a win/loss ratio of 0.789, only better than Bangladesh (0.4) and West Indies (0.565) among regular Test teams. With the World Test Championship cycle now in place, Sri Lanka are at risk of being pushovers on almost every big tour. That in turn weakens the very structure that was supposed to keep the format competitive.
It also takes the sheen off the sub-continental rivalries that courted a lot of hype in the 90s and early 2000s, mostly due to Sri Lanka’s golden generation and partly due to Bangladesh’s Test entry. No other tournament possibly highlighted that better than the Asian Test Championship in 1999 that Pakistan won by beating Sri Lanka.
Even at bilateral level, cricket in the subcontinent made headlines regularly. So strong at home were Sri Lanka that between 1993 and 2015, India hadn’t won a series there. After that though, it has been a one-way street. Several things are to blame for this. To the outer world, the strife within Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) seems to be pulling down the teams. Then there were the telling retirements of Muttiah Muralitharan, Rangana Herath, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara—no one has come close to filling those big shoes. By losing their way, Sri Lanka have effectively nullified Asia’s consolidated stronghold as a cricketing destination.
The quality of rivalries within the subcontinent too is falling behind the world. Tiptoeing around the fact that India and Pakistan haven’t played each other in Tests since 2007 and possibly won’t in the near future, it is farcical hanging on to an arcane concept like sub-continental rivalry when India have been comprehensively defeating Sri Lanka and Bangladesh since 2015. Sri Lanka are India’s favorite foes. They have also gone out of their way to help out teams. Need a last minute replacement team? Call Colombo. Want to break the skepticism of touring Pakistan? Request Sri Lanka. If only the system had worked, Sri Lanka’s performances wouldn’t have nosedived so quickly.
This is where India have been better than most nations in the world. From basic infrastructure to academies to domestic competitions (interrupted due to Covid but finding its way back) to the Indian Premier League, India have been able to replace a great team with a greater one that has now won series in England and Australia, while getting better at home all the while. India have a win/loss record of 15 in the last five years at home, triple of the home record of New Zealand, the next best team.
The gap in quality is too glaring now. In eight innings in India since 2009, Sri Lanka have scored more than 300 just once. During the period, Sri Lanka have bowled out India just once in six innings, the rest ending in declarations after India had piled on the agony.
Once among the best players of spin, Sri Lanka batters have found Indian pitches a different beast. Once up against Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, now Sri Lanka feel that sting while facing Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Every champion team wants to be challenged. As much as India may enjoy this unquestioned home supremacy, there is bound to be an itch for a more level playing ground. Sri Lanka, once their biggest subcontinent tormentors, aren’t providing that right now.
What can change the story? Probably India playing with a massive bowling or batting handicap. Because Sri Lanka have just not been turning up on the field.
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