Favourites India take on confident Sri Lanka
By Krunal Gandhi, MyCricketHighlights India Cricket Writer
The two Asian forces – India and Sri Lanka – will collide for the 39th time in the Test format. Out of the 38 matches these two teams have been a part of, Sri Lanka have managed to win only 7 and all their 7 victories have come at home. This tells something. One is that India have been a dominant force at home and second is that Sri Lanka is not an easy team to beat in their own backyard. The second part of the statement has, however, changed in the recent times.
When India travelled to the island nation last time (in 2015), they were able to beat them 2-1 and that too after trailing 0-1 in the series. Just recently, they lost a Test to Bangladesh and were push to the limit against Zimbabwe. These facts show that Sri Lanka doesn’t hold the same old supremacy that they used to during the times of the Mahelas, the Sangakkaras and the Muralis. The retirement of these legends has certainly affected the team as a whole and Sri Lanka are not yet completely able to get out of the transition phase. Their batting still looks good, but it’s their bowling where they are lacking the firepower.
Apart from Rangana Herath, there has been no other bowler who has performed consistently well for Sri Lanka. Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep promised a lot when they broke into the scenes, but then they too have not been able to live up to the expectations. The two have picked up 143 wickets between them in 61 matches combined at an average of 46.52 and 42.98, respectively.
The batting has been much better with the guys like Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga and Angelo Matthews in the side. No doubt, they will miss the services of somebody like Dinesh Chandimal – who is suffering from pneumonia and has been admitted to hospital – there are others who can rise up to the occasion. Asela Gunaratne and Dimuth Karunaratne are the ones to watch out for. While Karunaratne has been rock solid as an opener, Gunaratne has already scored three fifties and one hundred in the five matches that he has played.
However, in Tests, you need bowlers, who can pick up 20 wickets for you. Barring the Australia series, where they whitewashed the Steven Smith led side, Sri Lanka has struggled to get the opposition bowled out twice. In the 11 matches that they have played (not counting the Australia series) in the last year and a half, they have picked up 20 wickets only on 3 occasions and all three times, their opposition has been Zimbabwe.
For the hosts to come out victorious, they will need somebody to accompany Herath and get the strong Indian batting lineup out twice.
India, on the other hand, have got handful of options in the both the departments. Yes, there have been some injury and health issues for the regular openers (Murali Vijay and KL Rahul), but other than that the team is laced with some terrific batters and equally good bowlers.
The only shortcoming for the Indian batsmen, in recent times, has been their ability to play on rank turners. It was exposed last time around by Herath and earlier this year by Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe when the Australians toured India in February-March.
The pitches in Sri Lanka will most likely suit the spinners and there are chances that Sri Lanka go in with three spinners in the first Test. If India needs to come out on top, their batters need to improve their technique to play spin bowling; otherwise they will face the same fate, which they faced the last time around when they played at Galle.
India (Likely XI): Abhinav Mukund, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav
Sri Lanka (Likely XI): Dimuth Karunaratne, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Matthews, Upul Tharanga, Asela Gunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Rangana Herath (c), Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep