Sri Lanka gear up for India's five-bowler challenge
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Start time 1000 local (0430 GMT)
"We're both young teams," has been the phrase of the tour so far. "Both teams are rebuilding," captains, players and team directors have said. All of this is another way of saying neither team is particularly good at present. There is a lot of chatter about potential and talent. Less about Test form and recent record.
India are further down the transition track, and so appear the more polished outfit. KL Rahul is the least experienced batsman in the top order, but he already has a ton in Australia. Rohit Sharma is an unproven Test no. 3, but he has sent Sri Lanka bowlers into therapy in other formats. Between Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, there is enough quality in that top order to hurt Sri Lanka, as long as the visitors can overcome their aversion to batting well away from home.
After years of seeking a partner for Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sri Lanka's opening partnership has emerged as one of the hosts' strengths. Dimuth Karunaratne still plays the snazzy legside flicks, but has recently discovered the offside, and added a few points to his batting IQ. Kaushal Silva hangs on like a limpet, rarely punishing the opposition, but often annoying them.
There are the flakier batsmen - Jehan Mubarak and Upul Tharanga are yet to prove they can be Test performers. But offsetting this uncertainty is Angelo Mathews, who after Kumar Sangakkara is becoming Sri Lanka's sure thing.
The attacks are evenly matched, even if Sri Lanka's pace stocks are again diminished by injury. Dhammika Prasad and Nuwan Pradeep are improving bowlers, and in Rangana Herath and Tharindu Kaushal Sri Lanka have a varied spin threat. They will hope Sri Lanka stay within reach of India for the first three days, before the Galle surface's cantankerous mood takes hold on days four and five.
It isn't a Galle match without a late batting collapse, and as India appear intent on fielding five bowlers, Sri Lanka will hope to expose the lower middle order. Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri will feel the opposite. The extra bowler in the side will help put pressure right back on the Sri Lanka's batsmen.
(last five matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: LWLLL
In the spotlight
A day out from the match, Kumar Sangakkara already smiles down from almost as many hoardings as the politicians contesting in the election, in under a week. Fans in Galle will hope he can give the venue he calls his "favourite ground to play in" a final Test to remember. As big scores are rare at the P Sara, the first three days of this Test present his best chance of matching Don Bradman's double-century record. It remains to be seen if he will be back to his hungriest in this series, after a lower-intensity outing against Pakistan.
Virat Kohli had an outstanding tour of Australia, but has been short of runs across formats since the World Cup. Two failures in the practice match won't have done him much good. The early stages of this Test should present conditions he is more comfortable in, but with all the talk of leading an aggressive team, and trialing new ploys to fit the new philosophy, will the focus on his own run-making persist?
Dushmantha Chameera has been bowling in the nets, but it appears as if the selectors would prefer to preserve him for the Tests in more seam-friendly conditions in Colombo. Lahiru Thirimanne has a weak grip on his no. 4 position, and could easily be replaced by Upul Tharanga. Tharindu Kaushal will likely play ahead of Dilruwan Perera.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Kaushal Silva, 2 Dimuth Karunaratne, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Upul Tharanga, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 6 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 7 Jehan Mubarak, 8 Dhammika Prasad, 9 Tharindu Kaushal, 10 Rangana Herath, 11 Nuwan Pradeep
M Vijay is out with a hamstring injury, which means Rahul will open alongside Shikhar Dhawan. India will likely prefer the pace of Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav to the skill of Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The spin attack will probably comprise R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh.
India (probable): 1 KL Rahul, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Rohit Sharma, 4 Virat Kohli (capt.), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 7 R Ashwin, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Varun Aaron, 11 Umesh Yadav
Pitch and conditions
There have been intermittent rains in the days preceding the match, so expect a stop-start game. Despite the bad weather, however, the pitch seems to be a typical Galle track, which will dry out considerably over the course of the game.
Stats and trivia
- The match will be Angelo Mathews' 50th Test.
- Once the hosts' fortress, Sri Lanka have lost two of their last three matches in Galle.
- India have not won a series in Sri Lanka since 1993.
- None of India's top six have played a Test in Sri Lanka.
"In the last eight years of my career, Kumar Sangakkara has helped me personally. He is always willing to help the young guys and whenever you play a bad shot he comes up to us and says that we can play it in a better way. He gives confidence to the youngest and not only for the batsmen - for the bowlers as well. We learnt a lot from him and we are thankful for who he has been for the team on and off the field. He is your go-to man. You can always go to him and get an honest opinion."
Angelo Mathews pays tribute ahead of Sangakkara's final series
"It's a great opportunity to create some momentum, knowing it's a three-match series. Even if it's an off day, you still have time to re-group and think about what went wrong. If it's a good day you can learn from it."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando