VCA Stadium, Jamtha, Nagpur
November 24 to 28; 09:30 IST
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The main picture
Sri Lanka will have garnered confidence from their display in the first Test, though they finished it as the second-best team. Suranga Lakmal and co. had outbowled their Indian counterparts, while the Lankan batting line-up had fared better too. Ahead of the final two sessions of the Kolkata Test match, the visitors were in the ascendancy. In the end, however, the performances of their batsmen and bowlers in the first three innings barely mattered; and if not for fading light, Sri Lanka might well have suffered an embarrassing defeat, despite winning five sessions in the Test match.
Presuming they choose to look beyond the struggle on the afternoon of day five, for any batting line-up can struggle in a perfect catch-22 situation with nothing to gain and the result all but decided, the Lankan Lions have a few positives that they can build on. The team management will hope that Lakmal is fit to play, after missing a period of play on the fourth afternoon in Kolkata (Lakmal did return to resume bowling and also bowled on the final day, taking three big wickets of Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane). He exposed the weaknesses of even the accomplished Indian batsmen and bowled extremely well with the new and old ball.
Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Mathews scored crucial runs in the first innings and when they, in particular, were under pressure to perform on their returns to the Test side. And Niroshan Dickwella was effective with the bat in both the innings, even if his natural, aggressive style of batting did and is likely to disallow him from impacting a Test match. These four players, along with Dimuth Karunaratne, hold the key to Sri Lanka’s fortunes in the remainder of this Test series.
In his post-match interview, Virat Kohli, whose 104* off 119 balls set up an exciting finish to the Kolkata Test, said, “We’re proud of how we finished”. India did finish the first Test in emphatic fashion and that, despite underperforming for large portions. If this was a rehearsal for the upcoming tour of South Africa, then India, for about three-and-a-half days, gave the impression that they aren’t equipped: the batsmen were unconvincing in their tackling of the moving ball and India’s slip catching left a lot to be desired too. And though the home team batted and bowled better in the third and fourth innings of the Test match, they had failed the kind of tests that they are likely to be put through in the South African conditions.
We are hearing that the pitches for the second and third Tests will aid the pace bowlers. The Indian team management is understood to have spoken to the BCCI officials and asked for greentops, which are fast and bouncy and will help them prepare for the South African safari. If the Nagpur pitch sports green grass, then the toss will once again hold the key.
India, though, will be without Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who is set to get married on November 23 (a day ahead of the second Test) and will miss the remainder of this Test series, and Shikhar Dhawan, who has opted out of the second Test alone due to personal reasons. Vijay Shankar, a Tamil Nadu batting all-rounder, has been called up to the Indian squad for the second Test. India will miss Bhuvneshwar, in particular, who is a nightmare for batsmen when the conditions aid swing and seam bowling.
The Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur has hosted five Test matches till date and the nature of the pitch has been different for each one of them. For the second India vs Sri Lanka Test, which starts this Friday, the pitch should be good for batting, even if it has a tinge of green at the start. The Nagpur Test match is unlikely to be interrupted by rain, with the forecast saying that all five days should be bright and sunny.
IND: DWWWW (last five Tests, from left to right)
2nd Test: India vs Sri Lanka playing XI
In the absences of Bhuvneshwar and Dhawan, Ishant Sharma and Murali Vijay are likely to be their respective replacements. Other than these personnel changes, India are unlikely to tinker with their playing combination from Kolkata.
Likely India playing 11 for the 2nd Test: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Murali Vijay, 3 Lokesh Rahul, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Ajinya Rahane, 6 Ravichandran Ashwin, 7 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Ishant Sharma, and 11 Umesh Yadav
Sri Lanka will assess the match fitness of Suranga Lakmal and in the event he is fit, he will obviously retain his place and spearhead the Lankan bowling attack. Lahiru Gamage failed to play a proper supporting role to Lakmal in the first and second innings and his place might be under threat.
Probable Sri Lanka playing XI: 1 Dinesh Chandimal, 2 Sadeera Samarawickrama, 3 Dimuth Karunaratne, 4 Lahiru Thirimanne, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 7 Dasun Shanaka, 8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Suranga Lakmal, and 11 Vishwa Fernando
As aforementioned, if the Nagpur pitch sports a bit of grass, the toss will once again become a crucial factor. And the captain who wins the toss is likely to opt to field first, to maximise the conditions that may favour the pace bowlers. India, I believe, will be better prepared for a pitch that assists pace bowling than they were in Kolkata. And with the Sri Lankan batting line-up carrying a tendency to collapse under high-pressure circumstances, Team India have to be backed to prevail in a five-day match.