INDIA VS SRI LANKA, 2017
The weather forecast for the first couple of days at the Eden Gardens is not promising. © AFP
It has been nine years since Sri Lanka last arrived in India for Tests, and yet the timing of it seems a bit hard on the travellers now. To be fair to them, none of the other recent tourists have felt very comfortable either. The on-field precision from a ruthless home side has prevailed all through the home season of 2016/17, when they came really close to matching the success rate of the Australian side of 2005/06.
Sri Lanka have also had to bear the brunt of it at home just three months ago, where India laid their frail opposition bare in a 3-0 away series victory. Dinesh Chandimal’s Sri Lanka were made to look pedestrian in their own locales, thus highlighting the huge gulf in quality between the top-ranked side and the one languishing at seventh then.
But, light at the end of a very dark tunnel for Sri Lanka came in UAE. Sandwiched between two sets of three Tests against India, came a successful Test tour of Pakistan’s den, where they outdid the hosts in each department. They had batsmen to keep Yasir Shah at bay, fast bowlers to outperform Mohammad Amir & Co. If anything, it gave Sri Lanka a reason to keep their chins up before heading to the land of their utterly dominant neighbours, and a reason to believe it truly can only get better from hereon.
Yet, it has been a year of absolute mediocrity on the field for Sri Lanka, while also being accompanied by some unwanted behind-the-scenes shenanigans. Sri Lanka have gone through phases of a mass exodus of the selectors and have even seen a promising young batsman Kusal Mendis axed from the tour of India in order to shield his confidence and keep him from sinking further after going through an ordinary series against Pakistan. Clearly, the expectations from the tour haven’t been set too high.
India meanwhile, appear to be operating in a completely different universe, where the biggest challenge seems to be stemming from competition for spots in the side. If the rain stays away in Kolkata – which is a big IF for the first couple of days – Kohli & Co. should be well on course to extend India’s unbeaten streak in Tests over Sri Lanka at home.
When: India vs Sri Lanka, 1st Test, November 16-20, 09:30 AM IST
Where: Eden Gardens, Kolkata
What to expect: The eve of the game saw a long spell of showers, and the forecast remains similar for the first and second days of the game to follow. There should also be good bounce and carry on the greenish surface in Kolkata as it appears India are trying to get into the groove for the big away tour of South Africa in January. The Eden surface had already undergone a facelift after being relaid, as the previously spin-friendly track shifted allegiance to the pacers, as evidenced in the Test against New Zealand in 2016 where fast bowlers picked 26 of the 40 wickets to fall. Even the ODI against Australia this year saw the fast bowlers make merry. In both these occasions, Bhuvneshwar Kumar stood to gain the most (five-fer in the Test and figures of 3 for 9 in 6.1 overs in the ODI).
Virat Kohli all but confirmed that Shikhar Dhawan will continue to hold down his spot and open with KL Rahul, which resigns Murali Vijay to the bench. Based on how the two training sessions prior to the game have gone, it looks likely that Bhuvneshwar Kumar will take up the spot left vacant by Hardik Pandya.
Probable XI: Shikhar Dhawan/Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami/Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav
Dinesh Chandimal too has a task in his hand with regards to the team composition. By his own admission, the one big lesson going forward after being decimated by India at home was to move over to a five-bowler combination. That also served well in the trying weather conditions of UAE. Now in India, Sri Lanka arrive with a dilemma. Revert to four and add an extra batsman to combat India’s bowling attack or stick to five, particularly on a green top. Chandimal didn’t give much away in the press conference, but did mention that picking 20 wickets will be key while facing a strong side like India.
There’s a chance Sri Lanka will stick to the five bowlers then. Along with two spinners in Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera, they could either opt for a three-pronged pace attack with Suranga Lakmal, Vishwa Fernando and Lahiru Gamage or bring in all-rounder Dasun Shanaka which would also add to their batting.
Probable XI: Sadeera Samarawickrama, Dimuth Karunaratne, Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella, Dilruwan Perera, Dasun Shanaka/Lahiru Gamage, Vishwa Fernando, Suranga Lakmal, Rangana Herath
Did you know:
– Ravichandran Ashwin needs eight more wickets in the series to become the fastest to 300 Test wickets. Ashwin has 292 scalps from 52 Tests and the current record holder is Dennis Lillee who reached there in 56 Tests. (Fastest for India: Kumble – 66 Tests)
– Dimuth Karunaratne needs 60 more runs to become the second Sri Lankan opener after Sanath Jayasuriya (in 1997 & 2004) to aggregate 1000 runs in a calendar year. He has scored 940 runs at 47 with three hundreds and three fifties.
– Herath averages 45.97 in nine Tests against India – the highest for him against any opponent (13 more than the next worst). It is the only side against whom he concedes at over three (3.33).
– If KL Rahul scores a fifty in his next outing, he will become the first player to hit eight successive 50-plus scores in Tests. He currently shares the record with Everton Weekes, A Flower, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Kumar Sangakkara and Chris Rogers.
What they said:
“The wicket here looks very sporting, there’s a lot of grass on it which we’re really looking forward to play on. We want to build our games in a way that we look forward to playing anywhere in the world. We just want to play good cricket, that’s about it. We don’t want to wait for conditions that might suit our games. We want to develop our games for different kinds of conditions,” Virat Kohli about the green-top surface prepared for the Eden Gardens Test.
“Looking at the last series, we played really good against their seamers. Especially, with our guys, they are really confident of playing with grass on the pitch and bouncy pitches. They are more than capable of playing in that kind of conditions,” Dinesh Chandimal on the prospects of playing on sporting wicket.