The last time India toured Sri Lanka in 2015, they won the series 2-1 after a shock loss in the very Test at Galle. The team is very much the same but the individuals have had a lot more Test match experience as a unit. While the batsman Virat Kohli has been at the top of his powers, his captaincy in the series against England and Australia at home will stand him in good stead. Ajinkya Rahane made the choice of playing Kuldeep Yadav and the spinner since then has been an integral part of India’s set-up. Kohli will do well to acknowledge that at times, he has get better with his tactics and team selection. In his pre-match press conference, he has hinted at a debut for Hardik Pandya – an all-rounder India’s long wanted in their side. The balance of the team is such that he can try out anything but there are three particular aspects of the context on the cards that should decide the course of the series.
India’s new ball bowling: On the last tour to Sri Lanka, India’s new ball bowlers didn’t quite have the best of times. While Ishant Sharma did set up the last Test with his 8/86, but if you remove that he and Umesh combined to take 10 wickets in 10 innings which does not make an impressive reading. While the wickets didn’t have much to offer but the tourists showed that they could work batsmen over in the home series against England and Australia. This time around, with a lot more enterprising batting line-up for the hosts, Kohli will need his bowlers to strike with the new nut.
Handling Rangana Herath: If Sri Lanka cricket could be named, it could be Rangana Herath at the moment. He alone has been the face of them. They have been on the downslide but he has managed to keep them alive holding them with a thin string of hope. Against Zimbabwe as well, it was him alone who looked threatening enough and got due rewards. India fared him well after handing him a five-for in the first Test at Galle, they didn’t allow him to take more than 4 wickets in a Test in the remaining two games. It is a key to handling Herath that you do not allow him to bowl to you. Once he settles down in his area, he seldom gives you loose balls. India were proactive and used their feet to him. The same should be the case this time around. The presence of strokemakers in the side also tells you that India won’t shy away from doing that. If Hardik Pandya indeed gets a game, there will be no doubt what will be the instructions to him against the spinners – in the arc, out of the park!
India’s opening woes: In the last 18 Tests, India are set to have their ninth opening combination. It is almost as if the opening slot has been jinxed like the Defence against Dark Arts post at Hogwarts, no one lasts a series without getting hurt or injured. Murali Vijay, KL Rahul have made more visits to the hospital than scorecards of the games now and it remains an important issue to tackle for the new-yet-known head coach. Shikhar Dhawan has been the destiny child of India – every time you think there is no way he can feature in a side for India, the universe conspires to get him back in the thick of things. He showed good signs in the warm-up games but that’s not a benchmark to go by. Abhinav Mukund hasn’t made the most of his chances so far and will be itching to make a mark. Rahul is out of the first Test and hence both the current openers will know that they do not have enough time to make a comeback. Sri Lanka will be itching to get through the opening pair to get into the high-scoring middle order for India. The unstability at the top also shows in the opening partnerships for India, in the last 20 Test innings, the opening pair has gone past the 50-run mark only thrice. There is a lot to catch up for them.
India can take Sri Lanka lightly at their own peril, they have shown sudden love for the teams ranked lower than them in other formats of the game. Sri Lanka might not have looked at their best against Zimbabwe, but they will forever remain the favourite underdogs for many. Hopefully we will have a riveting Test series.