Can Muralitharan bamboozle one last time?
Match FactsSunday, July 18, 2010
Start time 1000 (0430 GMT)
The Big Picture
For one last time in Test cricket, that most controversial bowling arm of our times will release the ball. For one last time, many of us will enjoy the experience of watching the greatest offspinner the world has seen. For one last time, some of us will call him a chucker. For one last time, every one of us will laugh as we see him slog joyously to the on side. For one last time, the slow motion replays will linger on his conspiratorial smile, on that whirring right arm, on those eyes that almost pop out at release, on that final shudder of the body after he pivots and comes to rest, and on his eager face that follows the trajectory of the ball. In the years to come, it will be something to say that we have seen Muttiah Muralitharan bowl.
Beyond Muralitharan, there is a Test match to be won or lost. Unless Harbhajan Singh is inspired by Murali's farewell, it's difficult to see India taking 20 wickets. Sri Lanka are the favourites to win this - it's their game to lose. Forget what the curator has said, the pitch will take turn. It's the modern master's farewell game and he is eight short of 800 wickets. Don't kid yourself that the pitch won't offer turn.
As always, everyone will expect the batsmen to dominate in a Sri Lanka-India series. Never mind Yuvraj Singh, even Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have much to prove after their poor outing last time around in 2008. M&M assaulted and harassed them then; they might not have Ajantha Mendis to contend with in the first Test, but Rangana Herath is no slouch either. And Lasith Malinga is back to Test cricket after two and a half years and he will be keen to make his return a memorable occasion. Sri Lankan batsmen should, in theory, have it relatively easier as India's bowling looks the weakest it has been in years.
Sri Lanka LLDWW
Watch out for...
Who can stop Tillakaratne Dilshan from smashing a ton against this Indian attack? If he can play with controlled aggression, a hundred is there for the taking. And he can set the tempo by denting Ishant Sharma's already fragile confidence with a few boundary hits. It should be much fun watching Dilshan bat in this Test. Will he be over eager to attack? Can he show judicious shot selection?
Gautam Gambhir has already shown that he is the one of the best players of spin in this Indian side. Watch out for his inside-out drives against Muralitharan and cuts against all spinners. He rarely plays from the crease, preferring to go forward or press back.
India (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 MS Dhoni (capt and wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Pragyan Ojha, 11 Abhimanyu Mithun/Munaf Patel
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Tharanga Paranavitana, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene, 8 Rangana Herath, 9 Muttiah Muralitharan, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Dammika Prasad/ Chanaka Welegedara
Pitch and conditions
There have been short and sharp showers everyday leading up to the Test. Being so close to the sea, the weather in Galle is hard to predict, but if the trend continues, we shouldn't lose too much time.
Here's what the curator said about the pitch: "There is a little bit of grass left to hold the pitch together. Any wicket will turn on the fourth, fifth day, and this should go to a fifth day. It's up to the players, though." Does it mean he doesn't think it will last the full distance?! Wait and watch!
Stats and trivia
- Chanaka Welegedara has dismissed Rahul Dravid thrice in two Test matches. He took Dravid's wicket in the warm-up game that preceded this Test as well.
- Ishant Sharma averages 43.50 against Sri Lanka as opposed to his career bowling average of 34.93. His record, though, improves slightly if you just take his performances in Sri Lanka; he has picked six wickets at 35.50. Only a brave man would punt on him to improve his record in this series.
- Muralitharan has taken 97 Indian wickets; 57 of those have come in Sri Lanka at an awesome average of 24.84. He has dismissed Sachin Tendulkar 7 times and Rahul Dravid 6 times in Test matches.
- Rahul Dravid needs 30 more runs to reach 9000 runs while batting at number three in Tests. If he gets there he would become the second batsman after Ricky Ponting (9447) in the annals of test cricket to accumulate over 9000 runs at the no 3 position.
"Hopefully I'll get some sleep tonight with my stiff neck ! Had a good practice game gambhir looks in great touch "
Yuvraj Singh tweets ahead of first Test
"What really disturbs me is, this is another cricket series India are going into with bowling being their major weakness. My feeling is that you will get high-scoring draws and the odd result in between."
Sanjay Manjrekar states his concerns
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.