INDIA VS SRI LANKA, 2017

Ishant Sharma made an appreciable comeback to the Test setup after a six-month gap.

Ishant Sharma made an appreciable comeback to the Test setup after a six-month gap. © BCCI

Virat Kohli can go all-in in South Africa
India will fly out with an excitable pace battery for their upcoming away tour, and Virat Kohli should believe that at some point during the three-Test series, he can go gung-ho with pace and unleash all four – Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav. They all got two Tests each against Sri Lanka and some wickets – 30 off the 52 to fall – to go with before a big away sojourn. Bhuvneshwar showed why he was one of the most improved fast bowlers in Tests in Kolkata, Shami struggled there but eventually hit his peak on Day 5, Umesh didn’t have the best of starts but warmed up eventually while Ishant made an appreciable comeback in Nagpur after a six-months gap. India tried but couldn’t quite simulate South African conditions throughout the three games, but the pacers still finished the series in the pink of their health and peak of their form.

A pace quartet for India at a pacy Centurion? Well, why not.

Rohit Sharma an option, but it’s not panic stations for Rahane yet
Rohit Sharma didn’t let a lengthy layoff between his two Test appearances come in his way of a few good performances. The Mumbai batsman polarises opinion when he turns up in whites, but that’s not India’s concern, who would’ve been glad with his contributions in Nagpur and Delhi after Kohli went for a combination tweak. Rohit heads to South Africa with scores of 82, 51*, 102*, 65 and 50* in his last five Test outings and offers India very crucial flexibility. Rohit’s purple patch has also come at a time when No. 5 batsman Ajinkya Rahane has experienced a slight dip. Six innings of poor scores hardly qualifies as a worrisome slump for a batsman who has scored bucketloads of runs, but India will be wary. Rahane still has a very strong overseas record to back him, and he will be a starter in Cape Town. Yet, if he can’t force a quick turnaround, India have the luxury of an in-form Rohit to fall back on.

Rohit could also be crucial should India need an extra batter in place of either all-rounder Hardik Pandya – who will arrive in South Africa after not having played a Test for four months – or one of the two spinners.

India’s slip cordon form and roulette a worry
India are still in discussion to identify who their best slip cordon fielders are and quite flummoxed by why they’ve struggled to hold onto catches, if Cheteshwar Pujara is to be believed. One of the most glaring flaws of their 2016-17 home season was their consistency in the slips. That spilled over in the series against Sri Lanka too. If Angelo Mathews had been snuffed out for six instead of 111 – his first Test ton in over two years – the story of the Delhi Test could’ve been very different.

India have pushed boundaries as far as ground fielding is concerned but their pedestrian form at slips has the potential to kill their chances away from home. India’s fielding coach R Sridhar believes slip catching in away conditions is far easier than in India where wickets tend to be two-paced, but the task of being set on who mans the critical area is still pending.

India will hope to address the twofold issue before getting on the plane to South Africa, for they can’t afford any such lapses on one of Kohli’s toughest assignments as captain. Think of the plight and morale of a side that just let Hashim Amla or AB de Villiers off the hook after getting him to nick one.

Angelo Mathews still makes a damn good No.4 bat

Angelo Mathews still makes a damn good No.4 bat © BCCI

There’s life still left in good ‘ol Angelo
So protect him, Sri Lanka. Put him in a bubble-wrap and stop expecting bowling duties from him. Mathews is 30 and has a fragile body that has taken immense toll in the last 20-odd months, but he still makes a damn good No.4 batsman in a line-up that is in serious need of some senior figures. Mathews’s failure in the first two Tests alerted the eulogy writers, but his fighting hundred in Delhi – facilitated to an extent by India’s erring fielders – was proof that he wasn’t done yet. And Dinesh Chandimal will be relieved, for he could do with a mentor inside the dressing room for the Mendis’ and the Silvas coming through.

Sri Lanka in need of the next Rangana Herath
And quickly. The 39-year-old came to India with his worst record against the hosts, but showed in Nagpur that he didn’t need wickets to prove his importance to the side. On a batting-friendly surface at the VCA stadium, Herath bowled 39 overs for just 81 runs. Without him, Sri Lanka looked clueless with the ball in Delhi – sub-par even – as India toyed with his replacement Lakshan Sandakan, who just couldn’t match Herath’s accuracy with line and length (He conceded 167 at an economy of just under 5 in the first innings). What he also lacked in Delhi was confidence, as pointed out by stand-in coach Nic Pothas.

Chandimal conceded that Sri Lanka missed their ‘legend’ in the third Test, but had also spoken of Sandakan as the spinner that Sri Lanka view as Herath’s long-term replacement. That’s fine show of faith in a young chinaman bowler, but he has quite the task at hand. Given his form of bowling, he might just be more successful in the wickets column, but it will take a lot of improvement in accuracy and ability to dry up runs in tough sessions of play.

© Cricbuzz

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