Bowlers the focus in tour opener
Colts Cricket Club Ground is an idyllic, old-fashioned cricket ground, surrounded by trees, in Havelock Town in Colombo 5. A late replacement for the Nondescripts Cricket Club, the Colts Ground was slated to host what is usually a quaint tour game to kick off India's tour, but the game has now become almost a Test trial for both sides.
India have run into fitness issues, with Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth injured and Harbhajan Singh down with fever. Sri Lanka have chosen a strong Board President's XI side, with six members from the Test squad looking to impress the team management. Ajantha Mendis, not in the squad for the first Test, has been given an opportunity too.
The Indian XI is now wide open. If Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and M Vijay get picked for the tour game, a really impressive show from any one of them against an attack featuring Dilhara Fernando, Chanaka Welegedara and Mendis could seal him the No. 6 spot for the Galle Test.
More interesting and desperate is the bowling department. With Zaheer and Sreesanth now out, Abhimanyu Mithun will be backing himself for the Test pace attack along with Ishant Sharma. Mithun, though, will look for a solid performance against the likes of Thilan Samaraweera, Upul Tharanga and Lahiru Thirimanne to make sure that Munaf Patel, named as Sreesanth's replacement, doesn't overtake him in the preference for the Test slot.
Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha have for long been taking turns to assist Harbhajan in the spin department, but neither of them has impressed the selectors enough to become a definite starter. With Harbhajan still recovering from the fever and yet to attend a training session, both of them are likely to get a chance to stake claims for the Test spot.
Sri Lanka, too, have an uncertain bowling line-up, especially the pace department. While Muttiah Muralitharan is a definite starter, Galle being his last Test, either of Rangana Herath or Suraj Randiv will form the spin duo. Among the fast bowlers, though, any two of Lasith Malinga, Dammika Prasad, Fernando and Welegedara can be picked in the XI.
Two of them, Fernando and Welegedara, will get a chance in Colombo to send notice to the captain and the coach. That two of them have been asked to show their form in the tour game could suggest that Malinga and Prasad have a lead over them, but a five-for against a near-Test side never hurt anybody.
Most interesting, though, will be how Mendis bowls. He will be up against the same batting line-up that he tortured two years ago; the same batsmen have been torturing him since. He knows there will be a vacancy with Murali retiring after the first Test. He also knows he needs to convince them that he is the man to fill it. Mendis will be bowling to get his Test career back on track, to the same set of blokes he launched it against in the first place.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo