Another India v Sri Lanka series is in a familiar situation: One team is looking dominant, well-oiled and ruthless, while the other is trying hard to stay alive after being pushed to a corner. No points for guessing which team is in which position.
That the series is even alive going into the final Test in New Delhi starting on Saturday (December 2) is perhaps down to the fact that rain denied India the time needed to win in the first Test in Kolkata. India were just three wickets away from victory when they ran out of sunlight, but had no such issues in the second Test in Nagpur where they raced to their joint biggest-ever win in Test cricket history – an innings and 239 runs.
The only time Sri Lanka showed signs of a fight in the series was over the first three rain-affected days at Eden Gardens. They bowled India out for 172 and then bagged a lead in excess of 120 on a green pitch, but from there on, it has been an endless downhill slide.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), M Vijay, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Vijay Shankar.
Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Dimuth Karunaratne, Dhananjaya de Silva, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Angelo Mathews, Lahiru Thirimanne, Suranga Lakmal, Dilruwan Perera, Lahiru Gamage, Lakshan Sandakan, Vishwa Fernando, Dasun Shanaka, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Roshen Silva, Jeffrey Vandersay.
The Nagpur Test in particular was demoralising for the visitors. They first squandered good batting conditions to be bowled out for 205 within the first day, and then saw four Indian batsmen getting three-figure scores. Among those was a double-century by Virat Kohli, which set up a massive victory for his side.
To make things worse for Sri Lanka, they have also lost the services of Rangana Herath, who has been ruled out with a back injury. Jeffrey Vandersay, the legspinner, has been named his replacement in the squad but Sri Lanka are unlikely to pick him in the XI for the must-win encounter. Lakshan Sandakan and Dhananjaya de Silva could come in for Herath and Dasun Shanaka, while Lahiru Thirimanne could also make way for the uncapped Roshen Silva.
Whatever the changes in personnel, Sri Lanka need a big change in execution. Dinesh Chandimal, their captain, spoke about being “aggressive” after their first Test but none of that was in evidence in Nagpur. Instead, Sri Lanka’s approach showed a lack of understanding of the thin difference between aggression and carelessness, as their shot selection through the game suggested. Their batsmen were just happy to swing their bats, and the result was there for all to see. A bit more application – something they can learn from M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara’s centuries in Nagpur – would do them no harm.
India, meanwhile, have a problem of plenty. Shikhar Dhawan is back after missing the second Test owing to personal reasons, making Kohli’s job tougher. With all three openers among the runs, it’ll be interesting to see which two get the nod. If the team management is up for experimentation, they could also give Ajinkya Rahane, who hasn’t exactly had great numbers, a break and play all three openers.
While that is unlikely, what’s definitely on the cards is another green track. India have one eye on the South Africa tour and the team has made no secrets about their desire to play on pitches that assist seamers, and the trend is likely to continue. The pitch at the Feroz Shah Kotla is likely to be similar to the one India encountered at Eden Gardens – something Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami would not mind.
If that happens, Sri Lanka’s job will only get tougher. In fact, irrespective of the conditions that are in store, Kohli and Co are clear favourites to seal the series. A stiff challenge from Sri Lanka would do the series, and the Indian team, a world of good.