Resurgent India seek final flourish against Sri Lanka
India will seek to clinch their first series win on Sri Lankan soil in 22 years as they go into the third and final cricket Test against the hosts here on Friday in what promises to be a thrilling duel between the two young teams.
Virat Kohli managed to register his first Test victory as captain after India humbled the hosts by 278 runs in the series-levelling win at the P Sara Oval and the new leader stands at the cusp of claiming his maiden rubber as well.
Mohammad Azharuddin had last led an Indian team to a Test series win here on Lankan turf, back in
1993, with a 1-0 margin.
Kohli’s five-bowler strategy has paid rich dividends, albeit with different results. From three spinners in Galle and dropping Harbhajan Singh for Stuart Binny in Colombo, they have managed to pick all 40 Lankan wickets on offer. It has been a horses-for-courses policy thus far, and it has worked well.
Riding on Ravichandran Ashwin’s terrific form with the ball (17 wickets in 4 innings), the visitors have managed to dominate almost eight out of the nine days of cricket played so far in the two matches.
Ashwin, who bagged a five-wicket haul to help India skittle out Lanka for 134 to win the previous game, has combined well with Amit Mishra, who has picked 12 wickets in the series so far to spin Lankan woes.
The team management recognised that Ashwin and Mishra were proving quite a handful for the Lankan <g data-gr-id="71">batsmen,</g> and were ably supported by Ishant Sharma (and Umesh Yadav in the second Test) in the pace department.
As such they only needed reinforcements in the guise of a fifth bowler, and Binny was summoned for the second game. It is easy to assume that the Indian attack will bear the same look at the SSC as it did at the Oval.
There has been some re-arrangement of the batting line-up too. Through some chance, Ajinkya Rahane has moved to number three and Rohit Sharma, after a failed experiment in three Tests, is now slotted at number five. With the five-bowler theory in effect, there is no place for Cheteshwar Pujara in this line-up, not as a specialist middle-order batsman anyway.
Instead, due to injuries sustained by Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, Pujara is now slated to open the innings with Lokesh Rahul at the SSC. Unless some cruel fate transpires to rob him of this chance as well, this Test will perhaps define the Saurashtra batsman’s standing in this squad.
Having Pujara as a makeshift opener also allows the 32-year-old Naman Ojha to finally make his Test <g data-gr-id="66">debut,</g> while Karun Nair is likely to warm the bench. On paper <g data-gr-id="61">atleast</g>, this combination looks like India’s best bet to win a Test series away from home.
Sri <g data-gr-id="64">Lanka on the other hand</g> seem to be in disarray and it is not entirely due to Kumar Sangakkara’s retirement after two matches in this series. In a way, it did put a hold on the hosts’ plans for the series since they will now be fielding another batsman.
But then again, they have already been mixing up their batting order in the past two Tests, so it shouldn’t matter this time around either.
Upul Tharanga is expected to replace the outgoing <g data-gr-id="68">left-hander,</g> and is likely to bat at No.3. Skipper Angelo Mathews has taken up the number four slot, leaving Lahiru Thirimanne at number five. The big worry here is that Tharanga is also a left-hander and their record against Ashwin in this series has been worrisome for Lanka.
Twelve of his 17 victims have been left-handers, with Sangakkara accounting for four dismissals and Thirimanne another three.
And then there is Mishra’s leg-spin to contend with; 7 of his 12 wickets have come against lower-order batsmen. All in all it puts a lot of onus on the top-five batsmen to get runs, and that has not been an easy task thus far.
Perhaps it also puts the SSC <g data-gr-id="55">grounds men</g> in a quandary. In Galle, the pitch was tailor-made for Rangana Herath and he came good on day four.
The P Sara Oval pitch was a little more conservative, and while their batsmen didn’t give a sniff to Herath this time, the Indian bowlers were persistent in their approach. As such, it remains to be seen if the SSC wicket will resemble either of the pitches from the first two Tests, or will be flatter in nature, pointing towards a draw. Either way, India’s dominance in this series will have a bearing on it. For, Lanka will not want to lose a second home series in succession, after losing 1-2 to Pakistan.
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