Sri Lanka v India, 2nd Test, SSC, 1st day July 26, 2010

Lefties loot India

Having no answers for Sri Lanka's left-hand batsmen has been at the heart of India's problems

This is India's third game on the tour, and they have looked helpless on the first days of all three matches. Losing all three tosses hasn't helped, but having no answers for left-hand batsmen has been at the heart of their problems.

When Kumar Sangakkara brought up his century soon after Tharanga Paranavitana today, it was the seventh such effort from left-hand batsmen against the Indian attack on this tour so far. Only one right-hand batsman, Thilan Samaraweera in the practice match, has managed to reach three figures. There have been four hundred-plus stands between a pair of left-hand batsmen, and all that has come basically from just three days of cricket.

You could argue that the Sri Lankan right-hand batsmen haven't had much opportunity, and this is just a coincidence. This could well be a coincidence, but the Indian bowlers have at least asked some questions of the right-hand batsmen, and have also managed to keep the runs down. Against Sangakkara and Paranavitana, though, they have struggled to even hit the pads. In the practice game, Upul Tharanga and Thilina Kandamby were similarly untroubled. Samaraweera, on the other hand, struggled in the initially of his innings.

The problems that India had in the tour game have persisted. Zaheer Khan, one of the best Indian bowlers against left-hand batsmen, is missing. There is no Sreesanth to swing the ball in and create some doubt either. Ishant Sharma and Abhimanyu Mithun, not being swing bowlers, have struggled to do that off the seam throughout the tour. It has been easy for the batsmen to leave the deliveries going away from them with the angle. A few have moved slightly off the seam and passed the edges, but that has been about all.

There was one major difference between the warm-up game and the Tests though, that India would have looked forward to. Both the spinners then were turning the ball in towards the left-hand batsmen. The man who would replace one of them in the Test squad was the best spinner in India; someone who turned it away from the left-hand batsmen, and had the doosra too.

Sri Lanka have made a conscious effort to not let that man settle. All three innings that Harbhajan Singh has bowled in, he has been hit for at least one four in his first over. He has now bowled 54.1 overs in this series without a wicket.

"The last couple of times he has been here, we have handled him fairly well," Mahela Jayawardene wrote a day before the match. "He is a top-class bowler, and when you have a bowler of the calibre of Harbhajan, you have to try to get on top of him. Especially in this scenario, when India have a depleted bowling line-up. So he is under pressure to perform. If we can keep their No. 1 bowler under control, we will probably have won half the battle." Of those 54.1 barren overs, Harbhajan has bowled more than 41 to the left-handers.

India's most redeeming moments in the field have come against Samaraweera and Mahela Jayawardene. In Galle, albeit with some assistance from the pitch, Ishant and Mithun put in a really good session to get both batsmen. Even today India exercised some sort of control against Jayawardene, giving away just 13 off 56 deliveries, managing a couple of 'oohs' and 'aahs', which had deserted them for most of the day.

Having said all that, India were completely at the batsman's mercy when Dilshan was smashing everything around on the first morning of this Test. Perhaps this is just a coincidence, but after what the left-hand batsmen have done to them so far, India will probably take the northpaws.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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