July 17, 2010

The bat will dominate

For India it will be time to avenge the loss of 2008. For Sri Lanka, a test of how they fare without Murali and other recent retirees

Yes, I know India and Sri Lanka have been playing each other for long, but both could do with some Test cricket. Especially Sri Lanka, who have only three Tests scheduled this year, which is sad. I know India play a lot of cricket and everybody wants to play them, but they too would have been left with only five or so Tests if some games of their ODI series against South Africa and Australia were not converted to Tests, and they didn't have this three-Test series against us.

This current FTP has been a lop-sided one. If you want to have Test championships and want to see where the teams stand, you need to give equal opportunity to all teams. I have played Test cricket for 12 years, but only four Tests in Australia and none at the MCG, the SCG or the WACA. I would love to challenge myself there before I leave the game, but where is the opportunity?

I am not pointing fingers; just that everyone needs to sit down and find a formula for a consistent set-up. Every Test team needs to play a minimum of 10 matches a year - ideally 12. Play all the countries equally, not just one team all the time and the bare minimum against the rest. Given the current state of affairs, we are fortunate to be able to fit in this series.

Sri Lanka will be up for this one after a tough Test series in India, when they got the better of us. The Indian batting line-up is very strong. They are the No. 1 side in the world, and that is motivation enough for us to be at our best and go up the table.

We know, though, that this batting line-up can be kept quiet. We did that two years ago. The way we bowled against them in 2008 is a big positive when compared to the disappointing tour the year after that. Also, at the back of our minds we know we used the umpire review system really well, and Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis had a great series then. There is a huge difference between the Kookaburra and the SG as well.

I have played Test cricket for 12 years, but only four Tests in Australia and none at the MCG, the SCG or the WACA. I would love to challenge myself there before I leave the game, but where is the opportunity?

India won't have to contend with Murali after the first Test. But they will be missing Zaheer Khan. Which is not to say that the series will be dull. Different players will have to step up and perform. Murali and Zaheer may not be there, but we know there are plenty of cricketers trying to prove themselves.

We have improved in our fast-bowling department over the last couple of years. Getting Lasith Malinga back is a positive. Dammika Prasad and Chanaka Welegedara have also come on really well. Angelo Mathews has provided the side with invaluable balance. He gives us more options in our bowling department, especially when you need to pick 20 wickets. Rather than having four out-and-out bowlers, we have a bit of variety.

Over the last three years we have lost three big players: Sanath Jayasuriya, Murali and Chaminda Vaas. While we knew they were going to leave and that would create a big hole in the side, the real test of how well we have coped with the transition will come now.

Left-arm spinner Ranganna Herath bowled well against Pakistan, but bowling against the Indians will be the ultimate test. Not only are they very good players of spin, they have improved a lot since they last came here. Back then, they didn't have MS Dhoni at No. 7 and Gautam Gambhir was not the well-rounded batsman he is today.

Given the slightly weak bowling attacks on both sides, there are chances this series might be dominated by the bat, which has been the general nature of most Sri Lanka-India series. Not long ago, it was always about the batting line-ups, and which of the bowling attacks controlled the batsmen better. You can't say what the pitches are going to offer, but it is essential that they are sporting if we are to have results.

Winning the series in 2008 was tough but winning now will be tougher. On the line will be our proud home record. But when we play Tests in Sri Lanka, we never put ourselves under pressure, saying we have to win. We know how to play good Test cricket at home and we focus on that, and not on who the favourites for the series are.

Former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene is the country's leading Test run-scorer