Sri Lanka arrive looking to set history right
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 Kumar Sangakkara is keen to rectify as his team arrived in Mumbai for a three-Test series beginning on November 16, followed by two Twenty20 internationals and five one-dayers.
Sangakkara, however, said his side, No. 2 in the Test rankings, was "under no pressure" to scratch India off the list of countries (South Africa and Australia are the others) where Sri Lanka have never won a Test. "We know we haven't won here and for us we need to try and change that," a sleepy-eyed Sangakkara said, in his first interaction with the media in India on Sunday afternoon. "We are here to relax, enjoy and not worry about history, and try and put as much pressure on the Indians as possible."
The pressure, Sangakkara felt, would be on India after the defeat against Australia in the ongoing home one-day series. He said it would be interesting to see how India reacted from the defeat against an under-strength side, saying that "some react positively while some don't".
Sangakkara, who took over the captaincy from Mahela Jayawardene at the ICC World Twenty20 in June, is building a cohesive unit capable of performing in all conditions. Sri Lanka are formidable at home but their overseas record is mediocre. Their lack of success in India is strange, especially since the conditions here are similar to those in Sri Lanka.
Posting large totals is critical to winning Tests in India, and Sri Lanka's batsmen have been unable to do so in the past, with 420 in Kanpur in 1986 being their best effort. Their present batting line-up could be challenged to surpass that score as only four players - Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Thilan Samaraweera and Sangakkara - have Test experience in India.
Things are not bright on the bowling front either. Even Muttiah Muralitharan has taken only 31 wickets in eight Tests and his average of nearly 40 in India is his worst in any country after Australia. And in Lasith Malinga's absence, their fast-bowling attack comprising Nuwan Kulasekara, Thilan Thushara, Dammika Prasad and Chanaka Welegedara lacks menace and experience. Sangakkara, though, was of the opinion that his relatively inexperienced attack could be at an advantage.
"Inexperience is sometimes a good thing as the Indian batsmen have not played our fast bowlers regularly in the longer form of the game which can work to our advantage." He said sometimes a "fresh perspective, attitude and enthusiasm could be an added bonus".
Sangakkara is banking on 22-year old allrounder Angelo Mathews to give the team flexibility and balance. "We have a great option in Angelo Mathews who gives us the flexibility of playing three spinners on a spin-friendly wicket because of him being a frontline fast bowler and a batsman," Sangakkara said. "We could even go into the game with three out-and-out fast bowlers, with Mathews in support, and one spinner or even two fast bowlers and two spinners."
It will be interesting, however, to see which two spinners Sri Lanka field in the first Test against India in Ahmedabad beginning on November 16, especially with Sangakkara stressing the importance of "performance and current form". Murali is likely to be a certainty for one spot, and Ajantha Mendis had spectacular success against the Indian batsmen in Sri Lanka. It is the left-arm spinner, Rangana Herath, though, who has been Sri Lanka's most successful slow bowler in recent matches.
In his last four Tests at home, Herath took 23 wickets against Pakistan and New Zealand. Murali did not play against Pakistan while Mendis proved expensive - his five wickets cost 43 each. Against New Zealand, Murali's returns were 13 wickets at 24 apiece while Mendis' three victims came at an average of 45. Sangakkara said that Herath having to play "third fiddle to the other spinners made him hungrier to do well". Sri Lanka could do with more healthy competition in India during the coming weeks.
This series, from November 8 to December 27, begins with a three-day warm-up game against the Board President's XI at Mumbai's Bandra-Kurla Complex before the first Test. The second Test will be in Kanpur before the teams head back to Mumbai for the third game.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo