Sri Lanka braces for tougher Test
Galle, Sri Lanka - At a glance, Sri Lanka's recent home record is not so bad. It has won five of its six most recent Tests on the island and at least three of those wins were comprehensive. The whitewash over Australia, too, remains a source of enduring pride, even though it was achieved close to a year ago.
Rangana Herath - the hero of that series - remains undiminished in his 40th year. Kusal Mendis, who produced that pivotal performance, has also since made headway, hitting another mammoth match-winning innings, in Galle, against Bangladesh.
And yet, there is fear in Sri Lanka that this series could go badly. Earlier this year, the hosts were beaten by Bangladesh for the first time ever and, less than two weeks ago, had been pushed by an even lowerranked Zimbabwe side.
How will it compete with India, the top-ranked Test team? How can Sri Lanka beat a side that, almost irrefutably, is fitter, better drilled, more confident and, probably, have comfier seats and softer suspension on their team bus?
Since its arrival on the island, India has even made the kinds of noises that teams, who are runaway favourites, tend to make.
While on tougher tours, words like 'challenge' and 'big effort' dominate the pre-series talk, here, it has spoken of respecting the opposition.
It had, after all, won the series in 2015, when the Sri Lanka team seemed to be in much better shape.
While for Sri Lanka the two years since have been characterised by resignations, new faces and flux, India has rocked up with a very similar squad. Stability, consistency, and excellence - right now, India represent everything Sri Lanka are not.
Sri Lanka: Danushka Gunathilaka and Dhananjaya de Silva will fight for the No 4 spot vacated by the newly-appointed Test captain Dinesh Chandimal, who was ruled out of the Test owing to pneumonia. There is, however, a chance Sri Lanka could go into this match with five bowlers, in which case, left-arm spinner Malinda Pushpakumara could pip them both for a debut instead. A fit-again Nuwan Pradeep may enter the XI.
India: Virat Kohli said India was not going to experiment at the top of the order, which means Abhinav Mukund and Shikhar Dhawan should open. He also said the pitch looked good for batting, which could tempt India to play only five batsmen and opt for Hardik Pandya as the allrounder. If it does emphasise on security in the first Test of a series, India could go in with Rohit Sharma at No 6.
Upul Tharanga: Only a year ago he had been out of all Sri Lanka's sides, but now, he finds himself not only embedded in them, but saddled with responsibility. That he is an outlandishly talented batsman has never been in doubt, but he has, at times, been wasteful. Having come into this series on the back of some form, here is Tharanga's chance to prove he is not a fair-weather batsman. Cheteshwar Pujara: India is without its first-choice openers in the most difficult country for openers this decade. It is time to rely on Pujara again. India will need his solidity at the top to settle the team down at the start of the series. From its experience in Galle the last time, India know that things can go wrong quickly in Sri Lanka; Pujara has to be its assurance against that.
Sri Lanka Upul Tharanga, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Danushka Gunathilaka, Angelo Mathews, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Asela Gunaratne, Dilruwan Perera, Rangana Herath (capt), Lahiru Kumara, Nuwan Pradeep. India (likely): Abhinav Mukund, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma/Hardik Pandya, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar/Mohammed Shami Match begins at 8.30am
Sri Lankan captain Rangana Herath (centre) at a practice session in Galle on Monday
Indian captain Virat Kohli (right) and Ajinkya Rahane run during a practice session in Galle on Monday