Sri Lanka braces for tougher Test

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

The buzz

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.

Key play­ers

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.

Teams

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

(likely):

Sri Lankan cap­tain Ran­gana Herath (cen­tre) at a prac­tice session in Galle on Mon­day

(AFP)

In­dian cap­tain Vi­rat Kohli (right) and Ajinkya Ra­hane run dur­ing a prac­tice session in Galle on Mon­day

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