Eden Gardens, Kolkata
November 16 to 20; 09:30 IST
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The main picture
India and Sri Lanka return to the battleground just a couple of months after the last battle culminated in the former winning 9-0 on aggregate. India have had the better of their neighbours for the best part of the last decade, but never before were the matches so one-sided and predictable. As that tour progressed, Sri Lankan cricket had to be sympathised with, given its state on and off the pitch.
70 days on, difficult to see how the Islanders’ visit can be different from the time they hosted India. A change of setting might actually help Dinesh Chandimal and co., in that they might benefit from not playing in front of their own fans. Otherwise, they don’t really have much in their favour. Yes, you can point to their winning the Test series against Pakistan in the UAE, but they also had gone into the home Test series against India, having beaten Zimbabwe at the R Premadasa Stadium, where they chased down a record 388 for victory.
Kusal Mendis (poor run of form) and Nuwan Pradeep (fitness concerns) have not been picked in the 15-man squad, which otherwise is similar to the one named for the home Test series back in July-August. Angelo Mathews has returned to the national side after missing the UAE tour due to a calf injury, but he is unlikely to bowl in the Tests. On the bowling front, Rangana Herath will once again be relied on heavily, not only because the conditions are likely to suit him more but also the other bowlers don’t carry the threat of this 39-year-old left-arm orthodox spinner. Sri Lanka, we need to reiterate, are soft opposition with very little, if at all, ammunition in the batting and bowling departments.
India, on the other hand, have more than a handful of players—namely Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, and Umesh Yadav; Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha are Test specialists—returning to the Test fold after either recovering from injuries or having not been part of the limited-overs sides. Hardik Pandya, who had been named in the Test squad initially, was released last Friday, in the name of rest. Now, the players coming back might be a little rusty to start off with, but do Sri Lanka have the armoury to take advantage? Not quite.
For India, this will be the last home series in a while and you can be rest assured that Virat Kohli and his men will be motivated to sign off a hugely successful home season on a winning note.
One of the factors to look forward to come November 16 is the Eden Gardens pitch, which has undergone a massive transformation since being relaid last calendar year. It’s fast, offers good bounce and the fast bowlers, in the three matches (one Test and two ODIs) since being relaid, have enjoyed mind-boggling returns: they have taken 51 of the wickets to have fallen, with spinners taking only 22 wickets. And according to reports, the Kolkata pitch for the first Test match has such a tremendous amount of grass that it’s barely discernable. The weather forecast for the first two days of the Test match (November 16 and 17) says a possibility of rain and thunderstorm, though the last three days should be sunny and humid.
IND: WWWWD (last five Test matches, from left to right)
1st Test: India vs Sri Lanka playing XI
The pitch for the first Test is full of grass and even if a couple of days remain for the start, not all of the grass will come off. And on a seamer-friendly pitch, both teams will have to decide between playing an additional batsman or a fast bowler.
From India’s perspective, with the pitch sporting an overwhelming amount of grass, they might think twice about integrating Rohit Sharma, who probably will find a place otherwise. But Ishant Sharma, who is now the captain of the Delhi Ranji Trophy team, might be the beneficiary of the grassy Eden Gardens pitch. Ishant hasn’t played any of India’s last four Tests and has the conditions in his favour to prove a point.
At the top of the order, with Murali Vijay returning to the squad, Shikhar Dhawan, who had replaced him in the squad for the three-Test series against the Lankans in their den, will make way for the Tamil Nadu opener. Vijay scored a 140 for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy fifth round match against Odisha last week and will be high on confidence.
Possible India playing 11 for the 1st Test: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Murali Vijay, 3 Lokesh Rahul, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Ravichandran Ashwin, 7 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Umesh Yadav, and 11 Ishant Sharma
With opening batsman Kaushal Silva dropped from the squad that was named for the two-Test series against Pakistan, his spot might well go to wicketkeeper-batsman Sadeera Samarawickrama. Angelo Mathews is a like-for-like replacement for the dropped Kusal Mendis, while a lack of options at No. 3 might give Lahiru Thirimanne another opportunity despite his failures against Pakistan and in the tour match against the Indian Board President’s XI. Sri Lanka, like India, might field three seamers too, meaning Vishwa Fernando and Lahiru Gamage are likely to find places in the playing XI.
Possible Sri Lanka playing XI: 1 Dinesh Chandimal (c), 2 Dimuth Karunaratne, 3 Sadeera Samarawickrama, 4 Lahiru Thirimanne, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 7 Dilruwan Perera, 8 Rangana Herath, 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Lahiru Gamage, and 11 Vishwa Fernando
On paper, India are the superior outfit who have form and resources firmly on their side. This Indian team are also a hugely motivated bunch and will not take Sri Lanka lightly, the kind of attitude which doesn’t bode well for the visitors. The Lankan Lions, in my opinion, don’t have enough firepower to get the better of India in a “five-day” contest.