Time for the big guns to step up

Time for the big guns to step up

After suffering an embarrasing loss at Kanpur, Sri Lanka face an arduous task to end India jinx

Time for the big guns to step up

Kumar Sangakkara and Muttiah Muralitharan

Not since 1973, when Ajit Wadekar’s side drew with Tony Lewis’ England, has the historic Cricket Club of India hosted a Test match. Wednesday will bring a lump to the throat of the old-timers when Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara walk out for the toss, even if the rival skippers themselves will have other issues to ponder over.

Sri Lanka arrived earlier this month primed to break their Test duck on Indian soil. With a wonderful array of attractive, attacking batsmen and an incisive bowling attack led by the irrepressible Muttiah Muralitharan, they had all the ingredients necessary to build on their recent good run overseas which includes Test triumphs in the West Indies, England and New Zealand.

After two Tests, there has been no twist to the oft-repeated script. India have continued to call the shots, necessitating the Lankans to win the final Test if they are to square the series.

Defeated by a shirtfront in Ahmedabad and paying a heavy price for not making the most of their early opportunities in Kanpur, Sri Lanka can now forget about the series win that would have catapulted them to the number one Test ranking. It is India now who are within striking distance; if they can repeat their professionalism of the second Test and conjure another victory here, the 2-0 margin will make Dhoni’s outfit the first Indian team to occupy the top of the Test charts, just reward for consistently good cricket home and away for the last couple of years.

Sri Lanka will not spend too much time trying to deny India their place in history. They have more pressing issues to attend to, none more significant than conquering what for them has to be the Final Frontier.

Having had the better of the exchanges in the first Test, Sri Lanka were prevented from driving home their advantage in Kanpur through a combination of Dammika Prasad being ruled out with a hamstring strain, Dhoni’s luck with the coin holding, Virender Sehwag being let off in the first over for the second innings running, a dominating batting display from the Indian top-order and a surface that changed character from a batting beauty on day one to a slow, low, run-denying strip as the game wore on.

There is no gainsaying what the result might have been had Sangakkara won the toss and the Lankans batted first. Their three-pronged spin attack of Muralitharan, Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis would have definitely had a larger say than when India batted for the only time, and battered the trio into submission.

It is more or less certain that Prasad will not be available for the final Test too, though he did take some part in Monday nets. As of now, Sri Lanka are undecided on whether they should go with three quick bowlers and just the lone spinner, or revert to two quicks and two spinners.

More than anything else, though, Sri Lanka have suffered from the authority with which India have tackled the world’s highest wicket-taker.

Muralitharan’s last overseas Test series has been an unmitigated disaster so far; not only have India denied him wickets, they have also set scored comfortably against him, preventing the 37-year-old from exerting the kind of pressure lesser teams have invited upon themselves by adopting extreme caution.

If Sri Lanka do opt for just one spinner, Muralitharan might have to defer to Herath, the left-arm spinner who picked up a five-for in Kanpur.

For Sri Lanka to turn things around and pull off a series-levelling triumph, it isn’t only Muralitharan who must rediscover himself. The big boys in the batting line-up, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera and Sangakkara himself must put their disappointing outings in Kanpur behind them, and quickly at that.

It will help if Tharanga Paranavitana justifies the immense faith reposed in him by the think-tank, but it’s the seniors that must invariably lead the way in situations such as these.

Sri Lanka will not be a lesser side if they don’t overcome their Indian jinx, even if it means Muralitharan, and potentially Sangakkara and Jayawardene, will retire without a Test win in their neighbours’ backyard. Champion teams, and champion cricketers, however, don’t draw solace from minor consolations.