There is only one England team that's playing today but the English brand of cricket was even on display in Colombo as the Indian batters thrashed the Lankan bowlers to win the first ODI comprehensively. Earlier, Sri Lanka's batting got exposed yet again, owing to their 'extreme' approach.
Kuldeep Yadav's improved show
The last time when Kuldeep Yadav wore the Indian jersey against England, he was getting smashed everywhere. Down on confidence, high on pace, down on efficiency, it painted a bleak picture about his future. Not getting a game in the subsequent IPL didn't help his cause either. But, despite his recent failings and sharp decline, the Indian selectors backed him for the Sri Lanka tour. And things started to improve. Right from the Intra-squad game, Kuldeep has been showing signs of progress. And in the series opener, Kuldeep put forward his best show yet in a long time. Right from the word go, he was extracting more turn than anyone else.
Debutant Bhanuka Rajapaksa was showing no mercy on the spinners and smacking them right from the start. Now, he did get out to a terrible delivery from the left-arm spinner but it was a mere reward for foxing him in the previous over. The UP spinner had beaten him with a full change-up delivery and then induced a top edge too, but the batter was lucky to survive. However, not for long. After the wicket, a relatively confident Kuldeep hunted down a set Minod Bhanuka in his trademark style. He pitched the ball on the perfect line and length, gave it plenty of air, inviting a drive which wasn't there, and when the batter moved forward, the ball turned sharply with Minod edging it to slips.
Today, it was evident that Kuldeep put more body into his action, better revs on the ball, nailing the right line, lengths, flight and variations. Having said that, while it was an improved display from the 26-years-old, the Lankan batters were also poor and went into a shell against him after a point. It would be too early to say that the Kuldeep of the old times has returned yet. But today, he took the first step in the right direction.
Sri Lanka's all-or-nothing approach
It's been around six years since the retirement of Sri Lankan legends Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene but, it's weird that even today, how everyone tries to find glimpses of the two in the young batters of the side. Hardly anyone has been able to leave a lasting impression. But, it's all nostalgia with little substance in the comparisons, given the current Lankan line-up is far off from how they should be doing things with the willow in hand.
Even today, their approach was befuddling. They were quick off the blocks, smashing 20 runs in the first three overs. But then could merely accumulate 35 in the next seven overs. There wasn't much pace, bounce or movement of the wicket, with the seamers also bowling at a hittable pace, but to no avail. As soon as spin was introduced, they tried to take them to the cleaners, as if a premeditated plan, which wasn't bad per se. But after Kuldeep struck twice, they completely went into a shell, which was inexplicable. From 20.5 overs to 30.2 overs, they didn't even hit a single boundary. There were 14 fours and seven sixes in their innings. However, Lanka played 160 dots as well.
To put things into perspective, the hosts' batters let India bowl the full quota of their sixth bowler, Krunal Pandya, with an ER of 2.6. They didn't even try to attack him and allowed him to bowl 61.7% of his deliveries as dots, the same bowler who had conceded 160 runs in 20 overs against England. This extreme kind of approach never helps any team, and most of the good teams know to build their innings in a balanced manner, something that the hosts need to learn quickly.
Shaw needs to translate his hot-run into big displays
During India's innings, it was hard to differentiate between Virender Sehwag and Prithvi Shaw, given the smashing way the latter was toying with the Lankan bowlers. It was a wicket that wasn't going to offer sideways movement, and with the ball coming onto the bat well, Prithvi Shaw looked unstoppable. He smacked nine fours to the fence of the 24 deliveries he faced during his stay, scoring 43 at a strike rate of 179.17.
More than a quick knock in the 30s and 40s, Shaw needed a big one to throw his hat in the ring for either India's T20I side or as the back-up opener in the 50-overs format. And there's where he failed to cash in on his red-hot form. Trying to slog Dhananjaya de Silva on the very first delivery without having a look at him, was a bad call, and brought about his downfall. Neither there was any pressure of the run rate nor was it a strong bowling line-up, so throwing it away was the last thing that the Mumbaikar needed as a big knock was on the cards.
For players like Shaw, more than when to play a shot, it's about when not to play a shot that ultimately decides the fate of their careers. This is where he needs to take a cue from the game of the experienced Rohit Sharma, who has mastered the art of making it big over the years. Once he gets a start, he makes sure to make it count. For a fringe player like Shaw, the need to translate starts holds paramount value. It was his hundreds and not 30s and 40s, that created the right noise in the Vijay Hazare trophy. And he will need to take care of that in the last two games, as there won't be any dearth of opportunities for him in the series to make his form count.