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July 22, 2008
There are two distinct topics of conversation cutting through the humid Colombo air a day before the first Test - the to-be-trialled umpiring referral system, and Ajantha Mendis, the unorthodox spinner who has generated plenty of hype after his domination of India in the Asia Cup final earlier this month.
India's captain Anil Kumble was, like his counterpart Mahela Jayawardene, eager to see what the referral system - which allows each side three unsuccessful review requests per innings - would throw up, but also was more forthright in his acceptance of it. "It is the first time [that it will used] and it will be helpful for the umpires and the teams," he said. "This is meant for the obvious errors which happen on the field and it's something we can negate, rather than look at every way to question the umpire.
"They [umpires] make mistakes and sometimes, in the moment, they may not have picked up a certain edge that hits the pad, and you appeal for a leg-before, and it is given out. Those types of referrals may matter and change the course of the game," he said. "We had a discussion yesterday, but I can't say much until it is experimented with. But I welcome it."
Speaking before Kumble, Jayawardene felt the media had put more focus on Mendis than even he had time to. He said he wasn't even sure Mendis will play tomorrow, but India have reason to be concerned. Kumble has almost certainly viewed tapes of Mendis running rings around the ODI side in Pakistan, but he was quick to point out that the pressure is right back on the mystery spinner.
"Not just Mendis, every bowler is discussed. It's his first Test, let's not forget that. The pressure is on him," Kumble said. "As a youngster you are obviously nervous. If you look at our batting strength, most of them have played more than 100 Tests. We respect every bowler. The two bowlers who have done extremely well over the years are [Muttiah] Muralitharan and [Chaminda] Vaas and we can't discount that we need to be concerned about them."
India have only won two Tests in previous tours to Sri Lanka, the first coming in 1993 and the last in 2001. Kumble acknowledged the challenge of touring Sri Lanka, and put faith in the composure of the Indian squad. "To win a Test you have to play well in both innings," he said. "In Sri Lanka, conditions can favour the side batting in the second innings but that doesn't mean batsmen can relax in the first or the bowlers try too much. We're looking at how to take 20 wickets in these tough conditions. And of course, we need to put up plenty of runs in the first innings.
"The pitches have generally favoured the batsmen. We have a lot of knowledge and handy experience and quality, in terms of our combinations," he said. "This [the SSC] is a good track, with plenty of runs in it. We will look at a four-bowler combination and we have capable means of picking up 20 wickets."
The heat in Colombo, even at 11 in the morning, is sapping. Watching the players perspire in the nets only makes one wonder how they will cope in the field for hours. Kumble recognised the need to manage the heat, but did not mention any specific issues his side had chalked out.
"In terms of going about out fitness and endurance we have to be careful about dehydration. That's something everybody is aware of," he said. "That will obviously be a factor in these conditions. All of us are experienced enough to handle this. There are a couple players who have to take extra care and the preparation has already started."
India have not employed a fitness trainer since the tour to Australia over the new year but Kumble didn't think that would be a factor here. "Paddy [Upton, the mental conditioner] is also doing the role of a fitness trainer and if you look at the schedule there's not much of a gap for you to focus only on fitness," he said. "When you're training in the nets it's a combination of working on your physical aspects and I don't see any concerns at this point."
When asked about India's average performance in the tour match against a Sri Lanka Board XI, Kumble said not too much should be read into that. "Our final XI will be more or less what we played in the tour match. We're not saying we have an edge over Sri Lanka. We need to concentrate on all departments and we're looking at what we're capable of. How we can maximise our potential in batting, bowling and fielding? That is the key."
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