Tough challenge for under-cooked India

We are well into November, and India have played only three Test matches this calendar year. Whether that is indication enough of the modern trend, with the onus on Twenty20 and 50-over cricket, is open to question, but there is no denying the fact that Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men will be a little under-cooked when it comes to the longer version as they go into the Test series against Sri Lanka, beginning here on Monday.

Not since early April, when they completed a maiden series triumph in New Zealand, have India played a Test match. In that period, they have done battle in 16 one-day internationals as well as the World T20, and every player in the national set-up has been involved in IPL II. How’s that for contrast?!

India’s preparations for the three-Test series against Kumar Sangakkara’s men have entailed a seven-match one-day series against Australia. Eight members of the Test set-up were part of that limited-overs showdown, so they have very little turnover time as India enter a Test match on the verge of creating a small but significant slice of history.

India are sitting on 99 Test victories from 430 matches played, one win away from becoming the sixth Test-playing nation to register 100 triumphs. As Sachin Tendulkar begins his 21st year as an international cricketer, a hundredth win will be the perfect gift for the little big man of Indian cricket, something that will not have escaped the attention of Dhoni and his band.

It’s only in the last decade or so that India have truly established themselves as an all-surface, all-country Test entity. Until the turn of the century, India were justifiably considered tigers at home but lambs abroad, their home wins dismissed as eked out on dust-bowls designed to suit their spinners. Much as it was far from the truth, it was a tag that stuck because despite repeated attempts, the Indians simply failed to bridge the massive gulf in results between home and away Tests.

The ascension to the helm of Sourav Ganguly, the presence of a formidable batting line-up and the arrival of incisive bowlers who ensured that Anil Kumble didn’t always have to plough a lone furrow combined to elevate India to dangerous travellers.
Today, India travel as well as any team in international cricket, as evidenced by Test series wins outside of the sub-continent in the last three years in England, the West Indies and New Zealand.

Their aura at home has faded a touch, but India are still a massive force in their own patch, as the Sri Lankans will testify.

Six visits and 14 Tests spread over 27 years haven’t brought the Lankans so much as a sniff at victory in India, who have won eight of those matches to loom as the ‘Final Frontier’ for the Emerald Islanders.

It’s a surprising statistic because conditions here aren’t as different from they are when India travel south.

The presence of Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath to support Muttiah Muralitharan, as well as a wonderful batting line-up, will give Sangakkara fresh hope, even as India eye a collective hundred.

 
India in Tests

Overall    430    99    136    194    1
Home      219    67    48      103    1
Away       211    32    88       91    0

(read under matches played, won, lost, drawn tied)

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