There was a time when the tagline "tigers at home, lambs abroad" was applied to India. Not anymore. The Indians have won at least one Test in every country, shared contests in Australia and South Africa, won a series in England, Pakistan and West Indies and won a series in New Zealand in 2009 after 41 years so they don't qualify for that tag anymore.
In fact if there is a side that would qualify for it right now it could well be Sri Lanka. The shattering defeat at Cardiff only augments the charge that their batsmen at best are flat track bullies at home and that their bowling is woefully inadequate in the absence of Chaminda Vaas and Muthiah Muralitharan. It is another thing that they were also without Lasith Malinga who recently retired from Test cricket in a bid to prolong his limited overs career.
However weak Sri Lanka's bowling is without the services of the three mentioned there is always the firm belief that the batsmen would steer the team out of trouble. After all in Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera they have three batsmen boasting of a career average in excess of fifty. Tillakaratne Dilshan is not far behind when it comes to class, skill and experience. Prasanna Jayawardene is a partnership world record holder. How can such a team fold up for 82 inside 25 overs on a good batting track is something that will probably never be explained.
It will continue to baffle everyone and skipper Dilshan is not the only one shaking his head in disbelief. After all the same combination had put up a total of 400 on the board the first time around, England in the second innings were reduced to three frontline bowlers thanks to the injury to James Anderson and Sri Lanka had just to play out some 50 overs to save the match. In the first innings they had batted nearly 120 overs. The famed 'fifty average' trio mustered up just 29 runs between them in the second innings.
Dilshan has spoken of the team regrouping ahead of the second Test at Lord's starting Friday but it is difficult to see this happening. Sri Lanka may be ranked No 4 just behind England and just ahead of Australia but this is largely because of their performances in their own backyard. One hesitates before using the term sub-continent for while they have done well in Pakistan and Bangladesh they have yet to win a Test in India after 17 games spread over seven visits. In addition they are yet to win a Test in Australia and South Africa.
Moreover they are up against a supremely confident England side which is making a strong bid for the No 1 ranking. And the manner in which they have been performing of late this is no idle boast. Each of England's last five victories has been by an innings and Sri Lanka's total of 82 is the fifth time in ten Tests that their opponents have been dismissed for double figures.
England under Andrew Strauss are marching ahead. However inconsistent their record is in limited overs cricket in the game's traditional format they are now playing like champions. They should romp home easily against Sri Lanka and then their four Test series against India could be a likely pointer as to how serious their challenge to overthrow the visitors and take over the top ranking is. For Sri Lanka is is back to the drawing board but even if they learn from their mistakes one just cannot see any major change in the script.
Overall through the dramatic turn of events at Cardiff only served to prove that Test cricket can also produce the unexpected; it is not only the prerogative of the limited overs game. Here was a rain ruined game given up as a dull, drab draw by everyone – players, spectators, officials, the media. And then came the sensational happenings on the final day. If the game was not the perfect advertisement for Test cricket – the prolonged spells of rain did play havoc with the proceedings while the sudden limp ending was a major dampener – there was still much to admire. The batting of Alistair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Prasanna Jayawardene, the bowling of James Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Graeme Swann and some of the English efforts in the field were things to savour.
While England are the team of the moment there is little doubt that Trott is the man of the moment. The 30-year-old right hander is the kingpin of a star-studded batting line-up. Ever since he started his career with a century on debut against Australia at the Oval in 2009 Trott has gone from strength to strength and the fact that his current career average of 66.77 is next only to Don Bradman's 99.94 best illustrates his exalted standing in world cricket. But of course the England team is more than just Trott. It is an ideally balanced side led by an astute and experienced captain. Having retained the Ashes 'Down Under' and with a record of doing very little wrong over the past couple of years England are now the team to beat.