November 16-20, 2017
Start time 0930 local (0400 GMT)
India v Sri Lanka again? Didn’t they play last week? Or was it last month? Might have been last season. Who could care?
Such is the apathy towards the contest that it is almost forgotten that Sri Lanka were last invited to play Test cricket in India, during “prime time”, was a full eight years ago. For purposes of rhythm no doubt, they played the matches on exact same dates – November 16, November 24 and December 2, 2009 – while the country was busy celebrating Sachin Tendulkar’s 20 years in international cricket. Only immigration officers knew Sri Lanka had been in the country for a week when the pre-match press conferences began.
If India were stuck in the past in 2009, it would appear they already have their minds in the future – in South Africa. Hardik Pandya, whose only Tests have come against Sri Lanka, has been rested because he is believed to be the one to make the difference overseas. If India seal this Sri Lanka series in the first two Tests, it is possible even captain Virat Kohli might give the rest of the tour a miss. Why, even the green pitch for the first Test at Eden Gardens might suggest South Africa has come in earnest.
The last time Sri Lanka came to India, they caught the hosts by surprise and had them 32 for 4 on the first day of the series, the last bit of ascendency they enjoyed. They will now hope not only to catch India on the hop but for a longer period of time.
The last time Sri Lanka came to India, the hosts would become the No. 1 side in the world. Now, they are already on top of the rankings, a more ruthless, bowler-oriented version of MS Dhoni’s team. And Sri Lanka? Well, they were the No. 2 side in 2009 but in the lead up to 2017, they lost Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Dilshan, Samaraweera, Muralitharan and their prominence in international cricket. Not only have Sri Lanka lost legends as players but, until as recently as last month, also as possible advisors to take them into the next era.
A more pressing concern is the batting, which needs a lot of work to stand up to India’s bowling might, which will be further accentuated on home surfaces. Even though they won the series in Pakistan 2-0, Sri Lanka are keeping their ambitions realistic: they will be happy if they can win a Test, their first, in India.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: WWLLL
In the spotlight
It is safe to assume it has been uneasy for R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to come to terms with life outside India’s national sides. Since they last played Sri Lanka in August, they were “rested” then “rotated” – who needs fake news when there are India selections? – but the fact remains two of India’s big match winners in Tests are not wanted in limited-overs cricket. They will be itching to come back to Tests with a vengeance.
Angelo Mathews has spent two years without a Test century. Sri Lanka have beaten Pakistan twice without Mathews. Once the captain, once the man to lead Sri Lanka into the next era, once the chosen one, Mathews is now just another one. What better time to go back to being the special one?
The Eden Gardens pitch is green and expected to help the quicks. The last time India played a Test here – on a similar pitch last year – they went in with an extra batsman. With the seam-bowling allrounder missing, India might possibly go that way again. If they do so, they might come face to face with a choice they will anyway have to make in South Africa: who out of Ashwin and Jadeja makes way for a third specialist fast bowler? That fast bowler if selected is most certainly going to be Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who took a five-for in his last Kolkata Test.
The other choice to be made for India is one that will bring them dilemma in South Africa too. While it might be harsh to drop either Shikhar Dhawan or KL Rahul after the year they have had, M Vijay might be a valuable asset in overseas.
India (probable): 1 KL Rahul, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt.), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 R Ashwin/ Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Umesh Yadav.
Even though Sri Lanka won both their Tests in the UAE, changes are expected. Kusal Mendis is out, Mathews is in, possibly to bat at No. 4; Kaushal Silva is out, Dhanandaya de Silva is back. The tricky permutations will have to be carried in the bowling department with Mathews still not expected to bowl. And Sri Lanka beat Pakistan by playing five bowlers in both Tests. An overcast Kolkata in November is rather different to the UAE, though, and a green pitch might also necessitate playing an extra batsman.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Dimuth Karunaratne, 2 Sadeera Samarawickrama, 3 Dhananjaya de Silva, 4 Dinesh Chandiwal (capt.), 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 7 Lahiru Thirimanne/ Dasun Shanaka ,8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Suranga Lakmal, Rangana Herath, 11 Lahiru Gamage/ Vishwa Fernando
Pitch and conditions
The Eden Gardens pitch is green and expected to be two-paced; it seems this Test will be played in similar conditions as the last Kolkata Test when 26 of the 40 wickets fell to pace. Any chances of the pitch drying out might have been laid to rest by persistent rain on the day before the Test. There is more expected on the first three days of the match.
Stats and trivia
Sri Lanka have never won a Test in 17 attempts in India, but this is not the longest wait for a Test team to register a maiden win in a particular country: New Zealand went 28 Tests before they finally won one in England.
One of Rohit Sharma’s two Test centuries has come in two Tests in Kolkata. Even when he didn’t score a century, he scored a crucial second-innings 82 to help India beat New Zealand in conditions that were almost home-like for the visitors. In all international cricket at Eden Gardens, Rohit averages more than 90 per dismissal.
Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath are the only ones in the Sri Lanka squad to have played Test cricket in India.
R Ashwin is eight short of 300 wickets. He has played 52 Tests; Dennis Lillee is the fastest to the mark, in 56 Tests.
“I feel every match you play is important. Every series is huge. It’s not like we lose this series and you’re going to say nothing to us. Everything is important when you play for the country. We don’t like to differentiate, we simply want to do well as a team.”
India captain Virat Kohli won’t take the series lightly