RAHUL SET FOR RETURN AS INDIA AIMS TO CLINCH SERIES
SRI LANKA VS INDIA SECOND TEST
Colombo, Sri Lanka - Fourteen overs. That's about as long as Sri Lanka stayed in the contest in Galle. As soon as Shikhar Dhawan's catch went down and Asela Gunaratne left the field, shoulders seemed to drop, bowlers' lines seemed to stray, and India rampaged more or less unhindered for four days.
How Sri Lanka can get itself into this series without trying something even slightly radical, it is difficult to see. It is strengthened by the return of its captain Dinesh Chandimal, but the balance of the side has been compromised by Gunaratne's absence. A chance then, finally, to play five frontline bowlers?
The SSC pitch may be a surface that requires an extra bowler, in any case. Matches there are no longer the bad old borefests of years ago, but at least two-and-a-half days generally still go to the batsmen.
In Galle, India had hit its 840 runs at a rate of 4.5 per over, for the loss of only 13 wickets. Sri Lanka can't afford to approach this match with the same bowling strategy.
India has a selection call to make at the top of its order now that Lokesh Rahul is fit again, but is unlikely to favour Abhinav Mukund despite his good second-innings knock in Galle.
There, though, lie the extent of its 'problems'. Having out-batted, out-bowled and out-strategised Sri Lanka (that it out-fielded the hosts goes without saying lately), India appears almost as short of weaknesses as Sri Lanka was of ideas.
Sadly for the hosts, it's also probably too early in the tour for complacency to have begun wrapping its tentacles around India's game.
With each of the rival top five having scored at least one fifty in the Galle Test, and with all the bowlers having claimed wickets, Sri Lanka need to climb a very tall, very steep, very in-form mountain.
Sri Lanka: It may play three spinners in this match, with Chandimal issuing strong hints that Malinda Pushpakumara may make his debut. If it plays with only four frontline bowlers, Chandimal has hinted that Dhananjaya de Silva is more likely to enter the side ahead of Lahiru Thirimanne, who was selected in the squad 13 months after last playing for Sri Lanka. Danushka Gunathilaka is set to make way for Chandimal. India: If the visitors believe the pitch will take a lot of turn, left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav becomes a strong contender for the XI. If he plays, Hardik Pandya is likeliest to be displaced.
In the spotlight
Lokesh Rahul: When he last came to Sri Lanka, he was a century or nothing batsman, hitting 7, 5, 108, 2, 2 and 2 across his six innings here in 2015. Now, his batting seems to have the opposite personality. In his seven most recent innings, Rahul has made six half-centuries, the best of which was the 90 on a spitting Bengaluru track against Australia. In a country that has been notoriously unkind to openers, India has enough faith in Rahul to restore him to the XI, despite having other good options.
Dinesh Chandimal: Coming back from illness, though not quite recovered completely yet, - he has received special ICC permission to use an inhaler during the game. His has been a fraught captaincy so far. He was appointed only two days before the Zimbabwe Test last month, and is now faced with having to raise morale after what was a difficult Test in Galle. In order to properly claim his position as the captain of this side, he also needs runs.
Sri Lanka (likely): Upul Tharanga, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Angelo Mathews, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dhananjaya de Silva, Dilruwan Perera, Rangana Herath, Malinda Pushpakumara, Nuwan Pradeep.
India (likely): Lokesh Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami.
Match begins at 8.30am.