Venue: Galle International Stadium
Date and time: July 26-30, 10:00 IST
The main picture
Virat Kohli became just the second Indian captain—the first being Mohammad Azharuddin in 1993—to win a Test series on Sri Lankan soil when India toured this Island back in 2015 and won 2-1. Team India were in a transitional phase back then, with Kohli into just his second series as the permanent Test captain and leading a set of players (the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Wriddhiman Saha, Harbhajan Singh, Lokesh Rahul, and Stuart Binny being some of them) who were fighting to cement their places in the team.
The Lankan Lions, led by Angelo Mathews, had a blend of raw, young players and experienced personnel in the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, Dhammika Prasad and Rangana Herath (who is still playing). Sri Lanka, despite having not lost to India at home for 22 years, were underdogs, who, however, took on an Indian side who themselves hadn’t found their feet.
Mind you, ahead of the 2015 series, India had been win-less in five straight series, against South Africa (2013/14), New Zealand (2014), England (2014), Australia (2014/15), and Bangladesh (2015). And because of the recent form and how these two sides were built, we were in for a fairly even contest: Sri Lanka pulled off a 63-run heist on India’s Independence Day in a gripping first Test in Galle, but Kohli’s India came back strongly and beat the hosts fair and square in the next two Tests, by 278 runs and 117 runs. That 1-2 Test series win set India off on a winning streak of seven straight Test series.
Staggeringly, India have lost just one of their last 23 Tests, winning 17 and drawing five!
The pre-series picture this time around is very different and Sri Lanka vs India is, on paper at least, not a match-up. While India are arguably the most settled Test side and are No. 1 as well on the ICC Test team rankings, Sri Lanka are lacking identity and a winning aura. The factors that make India a difficult opposition for Sri Lanka—compared to Australia, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, three teams who have toured the Island over the last 12 months and played Test matches—are the visitors’ knowledge of these conditions and their possessing the right kind of personnel to exploit the prevalent conditions.
Dinesh Chandimal was named as the permanent captain of the Test team, following Mathews’s resignation ahead of the Zimbabwe Test. And though the wicketkeeper-batsman began his captaincy tenure with a satisfying and record-breaking victory, he has suffered a fitness setback that has denied him from leading Sri Lanka in Galle at least. The positive for the hosts, though, is the potential which the likes of Kusal Mendis, Asela Gunaratne and Nuwan Pradeep bring to the table. The presence of experienced and reliable warhorses in Upul Tharanga, Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath, who is the stand-in captain for the pneumonia-stricken Chandimal, definitely bodes well and makes the Islanders a competitive side.
India’s 16-man squad is pretty much the same from what had been named for the four-Test series against Australia in February-March. Murali Vijay had to pull out after being named, due to a troublesome right wrist, otherwise, this Indian squad has no surprise selections whatsoever.
Because of the settled nature of their squad and the XI who will take the field on Wednesday (July 26), India are extremely well-placed to stamp their authority and potentially register an eighth consecutive Test series victory.
Pitch conditions and head-to-head in Galle
The Galle International Stadium has hosted 29 Tests since June 1998 and only six Tests (20.68 per cent) have ended in draws.
Spinners have dominated the share of wickets taken in Galle, with the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan (111), Rangana Herath (93), Ajantha Mendis (23), Saeed Ajmal (17), Shane Warne (13), Kumar Dharmasena (12), and Harbhajan Singh (12) taking a truckload of wickets. This is an indicator for Kohli and Herath when they sit down to pick their playing XIs.
Sri Lanka and India have played four Tests against each other at this venue, with the former winning three and the latter winning just one. India’s solitary victory came in 2008, when Virender Sehwag smashed an unbeaten 201 in the first innings and a half-century in the second and basically set up a 170-run Indian victory.
Likely playing XIs for Sri Lanka and India
The Islanders might well stick with the playing XI from the victory over Zimbabwe and just make the necessary change for the unavailable Chandimal. Nuwan Pradeep, who played against India the last time Kohli and co. were here, might be the only change for the Sri Lankans.
SL: 1 Rangana Herath (c), 2 Dimuth Karunaratne, 3 Upul Tharanga, 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Asela Gunaratne, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Nuwan Pradeep, and 11 Lahiru Kumara/Malinda Pushpakumara
Actual playing XI for Sri Lanka: 1 Rangana Herath (c), 2 Dimuth Karunaratne, 3 Upul Tharanga, 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Asela Gunaratne, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Danushka Gunathilaka, 10 Nuwan Pradeep, and 11 Lahiru Kumara
Lokesh Rahul has incurred a viral fever on the eve of the first Test and has been ruled out of the Galle Test, which starts this Wednesday. Abhinav Mukund, who was named as the third opener, is likely to open the innings with Shikhar Dhawan. Rahul’s illness is another setback for Team India, who had lost Murali Vijay’s services due to a right wrist injury.
India’s playing XI is likely to be as follows: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Abhinav Mukund, 3 Shikhar Dhawan, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Wriddhiman Saha, 7 Ravichandran Ashwin, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar/Ishant Sharma, 10 Umesh Yadav, and 11 Mohammed Shami
Actual playing XI for India: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Abhinav Mukund, 3 Shikhar Dhawan, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Wriddhiman Saha, 7 Ravichandran Ashwin, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Hardik Pandya, 10 Umesh Yadav, and 11 Mohammed Shami
You look at this Indian Test side and the striking aspects are the continuity in selection, a lack of chinks and a sense of invincibility about Kohli and his boys. The Indian batting line-up can, however, be put under pressure if Sri Lanka manage to dismiss the Indian openers early. Not only will Dhawan and Mukund be playing for their spots and hence be under pressure but also the visitors are expected to pick only five pure batsmen. So, early wickets will mean that the middle order will have an added responsibility and this Indian batting line-up is anyway not as long as a South Africa’s or an England’s.
If Sri Lanka are to unsettle India and potentially pull off an upset, their bowling attack has to come good. The batsmen too, ought to be disciplined and post decent totals every time they bat. Mind you, this Indian bowling attack is replete with ammunition. Bottom line: India are favourites not just for the first Test but the whole series as well. However, Sri Lanka aren’t totally incapable of springing a surprise.