Bowlers' chance to make an impact

Bowlers' chance to make an impact

Bowlers' chance to make an impact

Three wins from their last four Tests here should put Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men in a confident frame of mind, but those wins were earned against South Africa (twice) and New Zealand on the back of India’s adeptness at making the most of spin-friendly conditions.

Unlike the Proteas and the Kiwis, however, Sri Lanka have the batting as well as the bowling to give as good as they get, one of the primary reasons for a distinct effort to refrain from producing a ‘designer’ surface of the kind on which Dhoni, in his first Test as captain in a stand-in capacity, led his team to a series-squaring three-day rout of South Africa in April last year.

For a while now, Green Park has been a bit of a misnomer. Teams have arrived at the ground to find not a blade of grass on the playing surface, and have often lost the battle in the mind long before ‘play’ is called. The pitch for the second Test beginning on Tuesday, though, wears a greenish tinge even if some of the liberal coating came under the mower on Monday morning.

Especially after the lop-sided dominance of the bat in Ahmedabad, the track here has attracted tremendous interest. The unanimous and only certain verdict is that it will not be a batting paradise in the Motera league. Beyond that, however, there is only hope and speculation, even if the air of expectancy is hard to miss.
It has been variously suggested that the grass covering is meant mainly to hold the surface together, that the base isn’t as dry as last year but dry enough that it will crumble as the game progresses, and that the spinners won’t come away half as frustrated as in the previous Test. That this match is to be played on a strip that hasn’t hosted any international fixture for the last several years – the regular pitch is undergoing running repairs – further adds to the intrigue.

The uncertainty surrounding how the 22-yard piece of land behaves isn’t the only reason for bowlers to feel optimistic. At this time of the year, this part of the country will early assistance to the quicker bowlers on every single day, and a less than lush-green outfield should mean reverse swing will be more of a factor than it was in Ahmedabad, where it was noticeably conspicuous by its absence.
A combination of all these factors has left both Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara in a quandary. Neither think-tank has buttoned down its bowling options, preferring to wait till the last minute before deciding if and what changes are necessary. While it is unlikely that India will tinker with their eleven, the retention of Pragyan Ojha opens the window for a potential if slightly unrealistic Test debut for the Hyderabad left-arm spinner at leggie Amit Mishra’s expense.

Sri Lanka face the more tricky decision, one ironically precipitated because they have a genuine all-rounder in their ranks. Angelo Mathews’ medium-paced swing bowling, which could have a serious say in this game, will allow the Lankans to seriously contemplate bringing in Ajantha Mendis for the injured Dammika Prasad and form a potent spin bowling triumvirate, though the need for extra pace at the top of the innings should allow Dilhara Fernando to fancy his chances as well.
Rangana Herath was the most impressive of all spinners on view in Motera, so it will be something of a shame if the left-arm spinner is the one who makes way for Mendis. Whether to go with three spinners, or which of Herath or Mendis should partner Muttiah Muralitharan, is the difficult call Sangakkara must take as Sri Lanka continue their pursuit of a maiden Test win in India.

Having been in the spotlight for all the right reasons in Motera, batsmen from both teams ought to face a sterner test of their skills and temperament over the next five days. That won’t be such a bad thing, either!

Umpires: Tony Hill (New Zealand) and Nigel Llong (England).