Sri Lankan fortress awaits India
Match factsWednesday July 23 - Sunday July 27, 2008
Start time 10.15am (0445GMT)
Big PictureThe Indian Test team has been in form over the last couple of years but the task before them over the next three weeks is a huge one. Sri Lanka are a formidable team at home - since India's last tour in 2001, the Sri Lankans have won 11 out of 14 series, losing only to Australia and Pakistan, and drawing a two-match series against New Zealand.
It's been seven years since India's last Test series here, but the settled nature of both teams means many of the protagonists are the same. A couple of Indians who missed out in 2001 could have huge roles to play this time: Anil Kumble is the leader of the team and the bowling attack, while Sachin Tendulkar continues to be the key man in the middle order and is within touching distance of becoming the highest run-scorer in Test cricket.
Sri Lanka's successes at home have largely been built around the simple strategy of steady run-accumulation and a relentless diet of high-quality spin bowling. They have the resources for both in this series: the opening pair is inexperienced, but Sri Lanka have plenty of class in the middle order, while Ajantha Mendis lends a touch of mystery to their spin attack.
Form guide (last 5 Tests)Sri Lanka LWDDW
Watch out forMuttiah Muralitharan: The focus has been exclusively on Mendis throughout the build-up to the Test, but Muralitharan will probably be the bigger threat, especially at a ground where he has taken 20% of all his Test wickets. In 22 matches, he has a rich tally of 149 wickets here at slightly more than 21 apiece. Most of the Indians are fairly adept players of spin, but that didn't stop Murali from taking 11 wickets at this ground the last time the two teams met.
Gautam Gambhir: He has made a regular spot for himself in the shorter versions, but this is Gambhir's chance to make the Test opener's spot his own as well. His Test career has been more stop than start so far, but these might be the best conditions for him to make his mark: the bounce shouldn't bother him too much, while he has given enough indications in the past that he is adept at tackling high-quality spin.
Team newsMost of the Sri Lankan team chooses itself, and Mahela Jayawardene, the captain, confirmed that Tillakaratne Dilshan had sealed the No. 6 spot ahead of Chamara Silva, who scored two half-centuries in the tour game against the Indians. With Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando and Farveez Maharoof all unavailable, the tussle for Chaminda Vaas' new-ball partner is between Thilan Thushara and Nuwan Kulasekara. Thushara, who played both Tests in the West Indies earlier this year, should get the nod. Jayawardene suggested there was a chance of playing both those seamers because of the wet weather which has been forecast.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Michael Vandort, 2 Malinda Warnapura, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Chaminda Vaas, 9 Muttiah Muralitharan, 10 Ajantha Mendis, 11 Thilan Thushara.
The Indian team has a settled look to it. Gambhir gets another chance to resurrect his Test career, but the rest of the batting line-up chooses itself. The return of Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh should boost the bowling attack.
India (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Sourav Ganguly, 6 VVS Laxman, 7 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 8 Anil Kumble (capt), 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ishant Sharma.
Pitch & conditionsThe pitch looks good to bat on but with thundershowers forecast over the next five days the seam and swing bowlers could come into the picture as well. Both teams have the quality to exploit the turn which should be on offer on the last couple of days.
Stats & Trivia
Quotes"We can't control the hype that is being built up. It's a great opportunity for a young guy who had come from humble beginnings. He has the luxury of Murali and Vaas around him to take on the responsibility. What we want Ajantha to do is go out there and enjoy himself. There are a lot of expectations from a lot of other people but from the team's point of view there is hardly any expectation."
Mahela Jayawardene plays down the hype surrounding Ajantha Mendis
"Not just Mendis, every bowler is discussed. It's his first Test, let's not forget that. The pressure is on him. As a youngster you are obviously nervous. If you look at our batting strength, most of them have played more than 100 Tests. 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."
Anil Kumble makes an honest assessment of the Sri Lankan attack
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo