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November 15, 2009
Match factsNovember 16-20, 2009
News : 'Reputations are there to be made' - Sangakkara
Preview : Plenty to prove in heavyweight clash
Features : Sri Lanka well poised to challenge India
Series/Tournaments: Sri Lanka tour of India
The lead-up to this series has been more muted than the last time the Sri Lankans visited India, in 2005-06, when the scheduling of the first Test in Chennai during the monsoon and Cyclone Baaz hogged the headlines along with fevered speculation over which day Sachin Tendulkar would score his record 35th Test century. This time there has been no verbal discourse, no individual battles hyped, no records or player targeted, and no controversial sound bytes. In fact, Sri Lanka have slipped into their preparations almost completely under the radar as the country goes gaga over Tendulkar's 20th year at the top.
This lack of hoopla is slightly odd - or refreshing, depending on how you choose to see it - ahead of a series in which the No.1 spot in the ICC Test rankings is up for grabs. Sri Lanka are No. 2 and India No. 3, separated by one point. India will go on top if they beat Sri Lanka by 2-0 or better, while Sri Lanka just need to win the series to go past South Africa.
It won't be easy. Sri Lanka have made six tours to India over the last 27 years, played 14 Tests, and are yet to win one. It's a record their captain Kumar Sangakkara is keen to rectify. For Sri Lanka, the batting and bowling are areas of grave concern. Totally at ease on sluggish pitches at home, the batsman have struggled in more testing conditions away. Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene will be expected to shoulder an immense burden; Thilan Samaraweera and Tillakaratne Dilshan have new challenges of translating their home form overseas; Tharanga Paranavitana has a chance to cement the opening berth and allrounder Angelo Mathews, on whom Sangakkara is banking to give the team flexibility and balance, needs to step up if Sri Lanka are to ending their sorry run in India.
Similarly, Sri Lanka's bowling has been dominated by Indian batsmen over the years at home, with fast bowlers and slow suffering in equal measure. Muttiah Muralitharan has, by far, been the most effective, while none of the others have taken more than ten wickets.
For India, this series marks a return to the five-day game after seven months of limited-overs cricket. After a chastening defeat to a depleted but supremely confident Australia, keeping with a generally disappointing limited-overs record since the tour of New Zealand, India go into the series without much fanfare, in a way indicative of the history the teams share. India are terribly short of Test-match practice, having played only three this year, and all before the first week of April. Sri Lanka have played eight this year, the most recent in September.
Perhaps, ever so slightly, the pressure has been turned up on India because of all the focus on Tendulkar. Losing at home to Sri Lanka would not only be a huge blow for their morale, it would be a major setback to their goal of becoming the best side in the world.
Form guide (last 5 Tests, most recent last)India DDWDW
Watch out forKumar Sangakarra: The Sri Lankan captain has said his team is "under no pressure" to scratch India off the list of countries (South Africa and Australia are the others) where they have never won a Test. To help ensure that, he's going to have to lead extremely well and score heavily. Captaining a superb fielding unit and a bunch of bowlers skilled in home conditions is one thing, but doing so in a country that has daunted Sri Lanka since their Test initiation is something else. His own batting average of 24.80 from three Tests played in India will also desperately need some correcting.
After nearly nine years on the international circuit, you sense that the time has arrived for Yuvraj Singh to stamp himself in Test cricket. Sourav Ganguly's retirement has given him a massive chance to establish himself No. 6 as India prepares itself for life beyond Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. Whether or not he will be able to hack it is something to watch, for his temperament and technique have been exposed on occasion by quality fast bowlers and spinners. His limited-overs form has been decent, and for once Yuvraj can look forward to a full three-Test series at home to expand his credentials. Whether he's looking forward to playing three top-class spinners - lesser bowlers like Brad Hogg have made him look like a novice - is another matter.
Thilan Samaraweera has had a year to remember, as 1083 runs in Tests attest; he's the highest run-getter this year. While his new avatar has seen him turn into a run-machine at home, Samaraweera's record in India is one he will be desperate to improve on. In three Tests here, he has scored 42 runs at 10.50, with 35 coming in one unbeaten innings.
Zaheer Khan has recovered from the shoulder injury he sustained during the ICC World Twenty20 which ruled him out of all of India's series since. He featured in Twenty20 matches during the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament and a Ranji Trophy fixture, but it remains to be seen how he shapes up over five days. He has been India's best fast bowler for some time and they need him to be back at his best.
Team newsZaheer returns after a long lay-off to take the new ball, and that means it's a tussle between Ishant Sharma and the returning Sreesanth for the second fast bowler's spot. Ishant should win purely based on the fact that he's played way more international cricket than Sreesanth, whose last game for India was 19 months ago. The second spinner's spot should go to Amit Mishra who, even though he's not played for a while, bowled well in the nets. There aren't too many left-handers in the side so it's highly unlikely the left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha will be handed a debut.
India : (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Amit Mishra.
Sangakkara has confirmed that one of Prasanna Jayawardene and Kaushal Silva will keep wicket, meaning that Dilshan will play as a specialist batsman. Dilshan has been under the watchful eyes of the team physio after spraining his ankle but a final decision on his availability will be made on the morning of the Test. The toughest decision, though, will be on picking the second spinner behind Murali. Sangakkara said before the game that the decision would be made on "performers" and by that logic the choice should be the left-armer Rangana Herath.
Herath has done very well in four recent home Tests against Pakistan and New Zealand, taking 23 wickets, and was picked ahead of Ajantha Mendis for the last match Sri Lanka played. Mendis hasn't been the same since his outstanding debut series against India last summer, but mere thoughts of his mesmeric bowling then will put him in the reckoning. The allrounder Mathews is back in the side and will slot in at No. 6.
Sri Lanka: (probable) 1 Tharanga Paranavitana, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt & wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene/Kaushal Silva (wk), 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Thilan Thushara, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11 Rangana Herath/Ajantha Mendis.
Pitch and conditions
The last time India played a Test in Ahmedabad, they were bowled out for 77 on the opening morning on a green top that came under widespread criticism, not least from then captain Anil Kumble. This time, however, the track looks rather flat and neither side need worry about the ball zipping around like its Headingley. MS Dhoni termed it "a bit sticky in the sense that last evening they had watered it" but was certain it would dry up and be "perfect" track to bat on initially. The weather on the eve of the Test was sweltering.
Stats and Trivia
Quotes"Indian team and pressure go hand in glove. I have not played a series where it was said that we were not under pressure. That's nothing new. We play the best side in the world, we are under pressure. We play the lowest ranked side in the ratings, then also we are under pressure."
"I have played enough cricket over the years. This could be my last tour overseas. Sri Lanka has not won a Test series in India, so it would be great if my team won the series this time."
Murali, the highest wicket-taker in the world , wants to leave his mark in India.
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