India in Sri Lanka 2015 August 18, 2015

India aim to resuscitate and renew at P Sara Oval

In the middle of comforting jade haven at the P Sara Oval, the Indian team returned to its first nets after the Galle loss, with some familiar talk about the team morale being upbeat

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The P Saravanamuttu Oval may belong to the eastern Colombo neighbourhood called Wanathmulla which can be described in many words except the one which, quixotically, fits the ground perfectly: boutique. A small, compact, old-fashioned ground, with a metal scoreboard covered in ivy and internal rust and architectural flourishes like cornices and even lamp stands on pillars that are anything but the English colonial.

In the middle of comforting jade haven, the boutique branch of Indian cricket, the batsmen, returned to their first nets after the mind-bender of a defeat in Galle. Before training began, the batting unit was taken to one side for a long and what looked like impassioned talk. They turned up to bat in pairs at the nets, turning the strike and aiming to bring a 'busyness' to their simulated partnerships. M Vijay, recovering from a hamstring injury, batted in his rightful position as opener.

He batted against pace and spin, then spent time in the pacemen's slip cordon alongside KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma, with Ajinkya Rahane at gully. After the batsmen were done, the bowlers got their sustained batting stints at the nets as well, putting in a fairly long session in a similar fashion. R Ashwin with Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra and Harbhajan Singh and the newly-arrived Stuart Binny with Wriddhiman Saha. It is appearing more and more evident that Binny, looking streamlined and swinging the ball at the nets today, will not be here merely to make up the numbers.

Alongside this bustle, the P Sara Oval was getting ready for the Sangakkara farewell, with new coats of paint, large hoardings and scaffolds being carried in. It is said cricketing heavyweights will be in attendance. The occasion is enormous for Sri Lanka but Indian first-timers must have wondered what to make of the P Sara's mish-mash of stands with wooden chairs under whirring fans, old-fashioned dressing rooms and new-fangled glass-boxed areas.

India could take some confidence from the fact that M Vijay, now a solid opener, and Ishant Sharma, the leader of the pace attack, played in India's rare Test win at the P Sara Oval in 2010 © AFP

Renewal is perhaps the best place to start - whether they rewound back into the history of this ground or from there, fast forward to the last time India played a Test there. P Sara's tumultuous history is marked by constant rejuvenation. The Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club, which owns the ground, had been ransacked with some property and archives destroyed during ethnic riots in 1983. A year before that, it had become Sri Lanka's first Test venue, and two years after the riots became the place where Sri Lanka recorded their first-ever Test victory - over India in September 1985.

India have written a far better story here: in their last series here, they snatched a rare Test win in these parts, chasing down 257 in the final Test of the 2010 series, leveling it 1-1.

Three players from that Indian XI are poised to turn up again on Thursday. Vijay, who scored 14 and 27, but was a far less complete batsman than he is today; Ishant who got 3 for 72 and 0 for 54, bowling alongside Abhimanyu Mithun. Then there is legspinner Mishra, the comeback man, who has returned to Test cricket after four years. His performance in Galle - 2 for 20 off six overs and 3 for 61 in 17 - could be forgotten in the general debris left by Dinesh Chandimal. Mishra, though, bowled with zip and verve, the only bowler who kept Chandimal pegged (somewhat in the second innings, conceding 29 runs off 56 balls). He did get munched into by the unorthodox Jehan Mubarak, but in terms of the potency of his bowling, he came off ahead of more senior Harbhajan.

Then Mishra's performance with the bat in the second innings had his captain call him the "most positive batsman out there." It was only 15 runs, but he batted alongside top-scorer Ajinkya Rahane for 45 minutes and was one of only four batsmen into double-figures. Mishra understands the importance of keeping himself relevant in modern-day cricket - or to use a popular phrase, to stay in the contest itself.

In his time away from the Indian set up, Mishra, 32, has not turned into a tired 'ageing warhorse' but remains a committed cricketer, who spent eight years in the domestic circuit before landing a Test debut in 2008. He said he was "anxious" when he returned to India whites in Galle, but said he had worked on his bowling to have something to fall back on. In this age of T20, Mishra had worked on trying to counter the big criticism against his bowling - that he bowled far too slow - and said he had been upping his variations before returning to Test cricket and believing it is what works best in Sri Lanka.

"The wickets here are slower for batting and I have worked on specially what pace I bowl at… the biggest weapon in bowling here [in Sri Lanka] is pace and what it should be because the batsmen are very good against spin," Mishra said. "Maintaining a particular pace while bowling is important and I am trying to do that." Mishra's bowling settled down in the second innings, using his googlies and the bounce off the wicket judiciously.

There was some familiar talk about the team morale being upbeat and to be fair, the team could only dust themselves off and say that they had seen everything unexpected they needed to see in Galle. It had left them with a basic understanding of what had worked against Sri Lanka and what had left them leaden-footed. Trying to suffocate run scoring through dynamic field positions, in case the opposition goes banzai on them, and batting more aggressively. Mishra himself could hand out a few tips to his younger team-mates about how to resuscitate and renew themselves.

"I will work on the feedback I have got from the last match and hopefully in the second Test I will bowl better," Mishra said. It may sound like a tired cliché from most, but to a man who has got stuck in to the thick again after four years out, it carries real meaning. His younger team-mates must know it is possible.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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