Pothas pleased with SL performance
They may have ended at 75 for 7 and been saved from defeat by bad light, but for most of the five rain-interrupted days at Eden Gardens, Sri Lanka were the dominant side. While concerned by his team's batting collapse on the final afternoon, interim coach Nic Pothas was pleased overall with their performance to begin their tour of India.
It was the continuation, he said, of a process of improvement that began when India visited Sri Lanka in July-August and whitewashed them 3-0.
"The process absolutely began there, in Sri Lanka," he said. "The day the Indian team got on a plane and flew out, the process started. It probably started before that, because of the amount of planning that goes on, so that we were ready. Things like that don't happen overnight and certainly we're not going to be counting our chickens.
"We've played a couple of good Tests against Pakistan [against whom they won 2-0 in the UAE], we've played pretty well here. But we've got a long way to go. But this side is going to be a very good side in the future, there's no doubt."
Pothas hoped Sri Lanka could keep this positive trend going through the rest of this series.
"I think you always set a goal to improve," he said. "We had a series in Sri Lanka where we did not compete at all. We've come here, and we've actually been very competitive in the first Test match. That's a huge positive, and it's a credit to the support staff, the players, the way they got about preparing, about strategizing for this game.
"You know, it's only one game of cricket, this series is three games long. But the takeaway is going to be that we played a series against them, we got tougher. We obviously had some success; we played some very good cricket. So we'll see if we could continue to ride that wave."
In the fourth innings, set a task of either surviving 47 overs or chasing 231, Sri Lanka crumbled against Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami. Pothas said India's quicks maintained intense pressure on the batsmen, and that they would only learn to deal with such pressure by experiencing it more often.
"I think there always are concerns if you lose seven wickets," he said. "That's going to be a concern for any team. But you look at three very good quicks, you're going to be under pressure, but the more often you play, [the better you will get at handling it.] I think these two series back-to-back against India is going to be the making of the Sri Lankan team in the future, because if you play against quality under pressure you become better.
"So yes, it's a concern but I'm more excited about how we fought and came out the other end. Actually, you're looking at one day or a couple of hours of cricket; I'm looking at four days of cricket where we played very good cricket."
India were in trouble in the morning session when three quick wickets from Suranga Lakmal left them four down while only leading by 91. Sri Lanka continued to chip away at the wickets, but India pulled away thanks to Virat Kohli's 18th Test hundred, a knock that Pothas termed 'fantastic'.
"I don't think it went wrong [for Sri Lanka]," Pothas said. "You've got to look at it in two ways. There was a fantastic innings played by a world-class cricketer. I thought we bowled very well, we fielded very well. The intensity was good. Yes, we had India under some pressure. Virat played a fantastic innings and actually set up a very good game of Test-match cricket. I don't think anything went wrong. I think there was some very good cricket on both sides."
Kohli's innings set up a tense finish, with Shami and Bhuvneshwar steaming in backed by the noise of a large Monday crowd, and sparks flew when Shami exchanged words with the combative wicketkeeper-batsman Niroshan Dickwella.
"That's fantastic, isn't it? That's Test-match cricket," Pothas said. "It's a tough environment, it's a cauldron, and that's how players earn respect from each other. I thought it was played fantastically well. Very tough, high-pressure. Very enjoyable. Great for the spectators."
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